Confirmed: NAB To Take FCC To Court


The National Association of Broadcasters is set to file a lawsuit against the FCC over its quadrennial media ownership rule review, NAB EVP Dennis Wharton has confirmed to RBR + TVBR.

“Broadcasters want to compete in the digital age and continue being a trusted source for local news and information, but FCC rules need to reflect 2016 and not the 1960s,” Wharton stated in an e-mail statement also provided to Broadcasting & Cable. “It defies belief that the FCC allows AT&T/DirecTV and Charter/Time Warner mergers while barring two Topeka TV stations from combining, or a radio station from buying a newspaper.”

The rules, which were left largely intact in a 3-2 party-line vote conducted in August, were designed to maintain “viewpoint diversity” by continuing the prohibition of a newspaper from entering into a merger acquisition with a radio or TV station in the same market.

Republican Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Ajit Pai have been vocal about their disappointment in the FCC’s inaction on meaningful changes to the rules, adopted in 1975.

In a Oct. 10 speech to the 2016 Kansas Association of Broadcasters Convention in Wichita, Pai slammed the Commission for its decision to retain the rules, saying the action “had nothing to do with the facts, nothing to do the law, and nothing to do with common sense.  Instead, it was all about politics, and I fear that at the rate we’re going, the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule will outlive newspapers themselves, absent judicial intervention.”

The NAB has also been vocal in its opposition to the continuation of the 41-year-old media cross-ownership rules. Jerianne Timmerman, Senior Deputy General Counsel for the NAB, took to the industry lobbying association’s blog on Nov. 1 to elucidate on why the FCC’s ownership rules remain stuck in 1975.

“While the Ford Administration may seem like ancient history in this presidential election year, it’s no older than the FCC’s print newspaper rule,” Timmerman writes.

NAB has until Nov. 14 to file its lawsuit.

The action comes after Prometheus Radio Project opted to continue a battle against the FCC that saw its fruition during George W. Bush’s presidency, filing an objection in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit based on its belief that increased opportunities for female and minority ownership had not been properly addressed or resolved.

Meanwhile, the American Cable Association (ACA) confirmed late yesterday that a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments at 9:30 a.m. Thursday (Nov. 10) in the NAB’s supported challenge to “the FCC’s bipartisan June 3, 2015 decision to adopt a rebuttable presumption that cable systems are subject to effective competition nationally.”

Among other things, ACA argues, “the FCC’s ruling means that local government may not price-regulate basic cable rates and equipment charges unless they can demonstrate to the FCC that the cable system or systems within their jurisdiction do not face ‘effective competition.’ A cable system is considered subject to effective competition if its multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) competitors combined have at least 15% of the local pay-TV market.”

ACA seeks affirmation in its assertion that DBS players DirecTV and Dish are formidable competitors.