Lawmakers are using the omnibus appropriations bill to backstop FCC chairman Ajit Pai's rollback of the FCC's tightening of joint sales agreement reviews under former chairman Tom Wheeler.
The appropriations bill deal announced Monday includes a provision that the FCC can't require the termination or modification of a JSA as a condition of the transfer of a station license.
Under Wheeler, the FCC's Media Bureau advised broadcasters back in March 2014 that it would be scrutinizing sharing arrangements with financial components closely to make sure they were arms-length transactions and not de facto control. The FCC the same month voted to make any JSA of over 15% of another station's airtime an attributable ownership interest, grandfathering existing JSAs but not grandfathering them when a station was sold.
That did not sit well with either Republicans or some Democrats, who took aim at the "grandfather unwinding" decision, saying it went against a provision in a 2015 appropriations bill granting a 10-year extension to existing JSAs from the FCC decision, also in March 2014, to make all JSAs over 15% of ad time attributable as ownership interests.
The 2017 appropriations bill also requires the FCC, at the request of either a buyer or seller, to "eliminate any such condition that was imposed after March 31, 2014, and permit the licensees of the stations whose advertising was jointly sold pursuant to such agreement to enter into a new joint sales agreement on substantially similar terms and conditions as the prior agreement."
Pai has already signaled that the FCC's March 2014 guidance on JSAs is no longer in force.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated the FCC's March 2014 JSA order back in May 2016, saying the FCC improperly enacted the rule, having done so before completing the quadrennial review to gauge the impact of its media ownership regs on the industry.
The court said nothing in its decision prevented the FCC from reinstating the JSA change in its quadrennial review if it found it to be in the public interest. The Wheeler FCC did just that in its completed quadrennial, which a divided FCC voted to approve in July.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.