UHF Discount, Noncomm Form Up For Review At FCC


The FCC on Thursday announced its tentative agenda for its April 2017 Open Meeting, and up for discussion is an order that would reinstate the much-discussed UHF discount, something that many broadcast TV companies eagerly seek.

Also on the agenda for the Thursday, April 20 meeting is the consideration of an order that would allow noncommercial broadcasters greater flexibility in the submission of personal information to the Commission—also a topic that many NCEs have been fighting for.

Reinstating the so-called “UHF Discount,” used to calculate compliance with the national television audience reach cap, will be seen in “MB Docket No. 13-236.”

Specifically, the UHF discount allowed the FCC to count 50% of a UHF station’s audience when determining the Commission’s 39% national ownership limit for television broadcasters.

CBS Corp. EVP/Government Affairs John Orlando on Jan. 17 met with representatives of then-Commissioner Ajit Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly in an ex parte discussion focused on the company’s argument that the so-called UHF discount should be restored by the Commission.

Nexstar Media Group President/CEO and newly elected TVB Chairman Perry Sook has also been vocal in his calls for the UHF Discount’s return.

The key reason for its return: It goes hand-in-hand with ownership rules, which the TV industry wants fully reviewed, along with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly.

In a Thursday blog post from Chairman Pai in which he shares with the public details of the April Open Meeting agenda, Pai says of the UHF discount, “We’ll consider whether to restore the so-called Ultra-High Frequency, or UHF discount, which is related to the Commission’s national television ownership cap. Last September, the FCC voted to eliminate the discount on a party-line vote. That decision has been challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In my view, the FCC is likely to lose that litigation because it 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.”

Meanwhile, there’s a rescission consideration that’s designed to help noncommercial broadcasters that’s on the agenda.

The Commission will consider an Order on Reconsideration that would allow noncommercial broadcasters “greater flexibility to use a Special Use FRN for ownership reporting purposes and avoid the need to submit personal information to the Commission.

Shown as “MB Docket No. 07-294” and “MD Docket No. 10-234”, Pai explains, “Recently, the FCC adopted a rule requiring officers and members of boards of directors of noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcaster stations to provide personal information to the FCC. However, public television and radio stations have complained that this rule is discouraging volunteers from serving in these positions. In my view, we should be thanking people who want to serve their community in this way, not imposing unnecessary regulatory burdens upon them.”

The vote at the April 20 meeting would eliminate the rule established by the Wheeler Commission.

Also of interest to NCEs is a Report and Order Pai says will give noncommercial broadcasters greater flexibility to raise money for disaster relief groups, charities, and other non-profit organizations.

“In the past, the FCC has granted waivers to allow NCE television and radio stations to solicit donations for causes such as Hurricane Katrina and Haitian earthquake relief,” Pai says. “I believe that we should make it easier for stations to engage in this type of activity so long as it doesn’t compromise their non-commercial nature. That’s why I’m proposing that stations be allowed to devote no more than 1% of their total annual airtime to fundraising for non-profit organizations. Moreover, because certain stations have indicated that they have no interest in engaging in such activity, this rule change would not apply to stations funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”

The April 20 Open Meeting is scheduled to commence at 10:30am in Room TW-C305 of the FCC, at 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C.