In late February, the Federal Communications Commission's Media Bureau invited comments from the public on changing its long-standing policy concerning foreign entities or persons owning more than 25% of a U.S. broadcast company. Specifically, the FCC Public Notice states that a request before it "asks the Commission to clarify that it will conduct a substantive, facts and circumstances evaluation of proposals for foreign investment in excess of 25 percent in the parent company of a broadcast licensee, consistent with and in furtherance of its authority under" Section 310(b)(4) of the Communications Act.
In an opening round of comments filed on April 15, there was virtually unanimous support for the change in process initially requested by the Coalition for Broadcast Investment (whose members included, among others, Univision, Disney, CBS, Clear Channel, Entravision, Hearst, LULAC, LIN Television, Sinclair, NABOB and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce). In accord were,
- Adelante Media Group;
- Asian American Justice Center;
- Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (joined by 31 other public interest and minority organizations);
- National Association of Broadcasters;
- National Association of Media Brokers; and
- Nextar Broadcasting.
Although there were two cryptic objections filed by individuals assailing offshore financial entities of one form or another, no substantive legal or policy opposition was submitted to the FCC. So things are looking up for this long awaited and long needed change in FCC procedure.
As we noted in our March 4, 2013 Communications Blog, however, the contextual background leading to this is instructive: for the last 70 years, with one exception, the FCC has followed a "sub silentio" policy of not considering such applications. So, while an affirmative response would certainly be a step in the right direction, there still will not be any standard for permitting foreign ownership above 25 percent such as is already in play for all telecom companies licensed by the FCC. Rather, it serves as an opening to the status quo.
Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that Commissioner Ajit Pai is firmly in support. And, more recently, so is Commissioner Rosenworcel, whose name is frequently mentioned as a possible next Chairman of the FCC.
Reply comments are due April 30 and the expectation appears to be some form of Commission "pronouncement" by early Summer.