The FCC voted to change its view of the 25% threshold for foreign broadcast ownership not as a cap but as a trigger for detailed scrutiny with the possibility of waiver. Here’s what the five commissioners had to say about it.
* Mignon Clyburn: Major concern of minorities and women is lack of access to capital, and this may help ease that situation. This signals that FCC is open to considering foreign investment on a case-by-case basis. This will bring broadcast on par with telecom. All this declaratory ruling does is state that the FCC will follow the plain language already in the Communications Act.
* Jessica Rosenworcel: She noted that the existing approach treats 25% as an inflexible bar and said it is now an anachronism – it was initially intended to keep foreign powers from interfering with our communications during time of war. She added that it could assist getting more minorities and women into the broadcast space.
* Ajit Pai: He noted that he called for this move over a year ago. He’s optimistic that the ruling will revitalize broadcasting and increase minority ownership. In the recent past, the FCC has granted 25% plus ownership in telecom well over 100 times. But it is essentially impossible for this to happen in broadcast. A British company can own 30% of a telecom, but no more than 25% of a small Kansas AM station, which makes no sense. Cites MMTC support for the measure – calls it one of the most significant steps the FCC can take to increase minority ownership. Also, taking advantage of international reciprocity, this may open up opportunities to broadcasters for foreign investment.
* Michael O’Rielly: He said he is in favor of adoption, and suggested going above 25% foreign ownership could mean going all the way to 100% foreign ownership. Says that the lack of the opportunity for 100% works against US companies doing the same overseas. Removing foreign barriers removes barriers not just for broadcasters but for all American businesses. All in all this is a positive measure.
* Tom Wheeler: He said that the advantage of going last is getting to hear the thoughtful comments of my colleagues. He remarked that Clyburn, Rosenworcel and Pai deserve great credit for bringing this matter to the agenda. He stated that this ruling clarifies that the Commission is open to considering proposals for 25% plus foreign ownership. It will be a detailed case-by-case consideration, and far from a rubber stamp. The Commission is working to make the most and best use of spectrum, including the incentive auction. This will be a key factor in consideration of transactions considered under this measure. It could help fund deals which are spectrum positive; it will improve ownership diversity. He strongly suggested that those seeking to take advantage of this should keep all FCC goals in mind.