FCC OKs increase in foreign broadcast investment


FCCIn what amounts to a new way of looking at existing regulation, the FCC under new Chairman Tom Wheeler said it would consider proposals for transactions that include foreign ownership in excess of 25% on a case-by-case basis.

This was the first agenda item for Wheeler. He began by praising the “ridiculously productive” term of Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, who later returned the complimentary favor by congratulating him on hitting the ground running, and asking him what diet/exercise regimen he used to fuel his high energy level. Commissioner Ajit Pai also commended Wheeler’s first days, thanking him for going out of his way to meet and acknowledge the existing FCC staff. Jessica Rosenworcel added the lighthearted comment that it started to feel thin up at the commissioner’s bench, and said that now it feels crowded, it feels like a party.

Back to the issue at hand:

The Communications Act sets the 25% foreign ownership benchmark not as a limit, but a trigger for heightened FCC scrutiny. In essence, the policy commits the FCC to treat it that way, as it has done frequently in the common carrier space.

A Media Bureau spokesperson said that broadcast traditionally did not enjoy the same opportunity to tap foreign capital due to fears of foreign ownership interests exercising editorial control over content broadcast over American airwaves.

This is not seen as a major threat these days, so the FCC will consider proposals to go over 25%. Proponents will need to provide detailed information to have any chance of success. And those who receive the go-ahead will of course still be required to meet the normal public service requirements that apply to all broadcast outlets.

At this time, the only change is the way the FCC acts based on existing code. As time goes by, the FCC may revisit the policy, possibly adding guidelines or streamlining the process.

RBR-TVBR observation: The FCC shoots, it scores! This seems like a no-brainer, as indicated by the unanimous vote of the ideologically-diverse five-member Commission. Indeed, the only shred of dissension was O’Rielly’s suggestion that if anything the new policy doesn’t go far enough.

Despite the ease with which this measure sailed through today, we’re certain MMTC would tell you that the gestation period was quite lengthy – it has been pushing for this for years.

Needless to say, the entire broadcasting industry will be watching with acute interest to see this policy in action. Stay tuned.