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FCC Shot Clock Is Off

The FCC needs to recalibrate its merger shot clock.

According to its denial of a Freedom of Information Request by the Associated Press, the FCC does not consider its votes on items at public meetings a final decision. Instead, it is a "predecisional" draft subject toeditorial changes that have to then be approved–essentially voted on–by all the commissioners.

The FCC has a merger review shot clock, an informal gauge of how expeditiously it is dealing with big deals.It shoots for 180 days, but rarely seems to make it. But the FCC stops the clock on the date of the public meeting vote, even though the commission itself says that vote is not the official closing of its consideration of the deal.

For example, the FCC stopped the clock on the sale of Disney’s radio stations to Citadel at 380 days on March 22, 2007, the date of the public meeting. But the final order, the one the FCC says is the actual decision, wasn’t released until April 4. By our counting, the clock should not have stopped until day 393.

"When the Commission votes to adopt an item at an open meeting, the Commission’s deliberations concerning the item are not at an end," the FCC told the AP. Then the shot clock should not come to an end on any merger that is approved at a public meeting unless the order is released simultaneously and available for inspection, or at least that’s the way it looks to me.

For consistency’s sake, and so the FCC doesn’t appear to be deciding on mergers any sooner than it officially is, the FCC should adjust the online clock so that it does not stop until that final order is issued and any changes made have been approved by the commissioners.

The FCC fine print points out that shot clock is an informal guide, but even so it should be as accurate as possible. Remember, this is the same FCC that denied Fox’s appeal of its Married By America indecency fine because its petition exceeded the page limit.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was out of the country and unavailable to comment on the suggestion.