Two key leaders of the House of Representatives have engaged in a last-minute — and likely futile — fight to get the FCC’s key Republican leadership to stop its push to restore the UHF discount used to calculate compliance with the national television audience reach cap.
At its April Open Meeting tomorrow, the FCC will consider an Order on Reconsideration that would negate a controversial September 2016 vote to eliminate the UHF discount — a decision that came in a 3-2 party-line vote by a Democratic-majority Commission.
Now, with Republicans in control and the September decision getting a challenge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the restoration of the discount is all but certain to come down in a 2-1 party-line vote — led by current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
As Pai stated in late March, the FCC “went about eliminating the UHF discount in the wrong way. So I’m proposing that we hit the reset button, returning the rule to the way it was up until last fall. Then we’ll launch a comprehensive review of the national ownership cap, including the UHF discount, later this year.”
That’s not passing muster with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Leader, and Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr., who collectively wrote to Chairman Pai one day before Thursday’s April Open Meeting urging him and Republican Michael O’Rielly to not restore what they view as “a loophole that would further concentrate television station ownership and raise cable costs for consumers.”
The UHF discount allows the FCC to count 50% of a UHF station’s audience when determining the Commission’s 39% national ownership limit for television broadcasters. Thus, a broadcast television company would be permitted to own more stations.
Pelosi and Pallone told Pai the restoration of the UHF discount would have “a negative impact” on consumers, and that there is no justification for the FCC to restore the discount.
“After the transition to digital television, UHF stations are just like VHF stations — except when it comes to the media ownership rules,” the Members of Congress wrote.
What is of utmost concern to Pelosi and Pallone are “press accounts that Sinclair is waiting for the UHF Loophole to be restored so it can buy Tribune’s stations.”
If this were to happen, the Democratic House members assert, “consumers could see their cable bills go up because Sinclair charges cable operators more than Tribune for retransmission consent.” Pelosi and Pallone cite a March 14 New York Post article as the basis for this argument.
Instead of restoring the UHF discount, Pelosi and Pallone ask that the FCC instead “explore ways to promote minority media ownership and diversity of programming on our airwaves.”