The FCC last week released its tentative agenda for its March open meeting. On it was a single item dealing with broadcast issues, a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to ease the paperwork involved in the sale of a satellite TV station. This item is another action as part of its Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative seeking to lessen the paperwork and regulatory burdens of broadcasters. Similar to other actions taken as part of this initiative (see our article here), this proposal is a small step to reduce burdens on a small class of broadcasters – but at least it is another step that is being taken in this initiative. The draft proposal will be considered at the FCC’s meeting scheduled for March 22.
Under current FCC rules, the FCC will authorize an owner to acquire a second full-power television station in a market, a station which will not count against FCC ownership limits, if the applicant can meet a three part test – (1) the station will not have city-grade overlap with the “parent” station, (2) the satellite station will serve an underserved area, and (3) a showing is made that there is no other owner ready to acquire an existing station or activate an unused channel and operate it as a stand-alone station. Satellite television stations were traditionally used in geographically-expansive rural markets to expand the coverage of a parent station to reach outlying areas. In more recent years, as the Commission abolished the requirement that the satellite primarily duplicate the programming of the parent station, these stations have sometimes been used to provide alternate programming in smaller markets unable to economically support an independent operation. The draft NPRM released by the FCC seeks to address the issue of what happens when such stations are sold.
Under current practice, when a parent-satellite combination is proposed to be sold, the proposed buyer has to re-prove all of the elements of the satellite showing to the FCC – hiring experts to prove that the satellite is providing service that otherwise would not be provided but for the common operation with the parent station. This is a costly process that is almost always approved by the FCC. The FCC thus proposes that, instead of providing a detailed showing, the buyer should only need to certify that it believes that satellite operation is still justified and attach a copy of the last showing made to justify such decision (as we have written before in the context of FCC fees, the FCC does not have a comprehensive list of satellite authorizations and is considering how one should be developed). Then, if someone believes that circumstances have changed so that satellite operation should not be continued, they can object to the assignment, when further facts can be advanced. If there is no objection, then the FCC would effectively assume that the satellite status should remain in place. Look for further consideration of this proposal at the March 22 meeting.