CBS Urges FCC to Reinstate UHF Discount

CBS government affairs executive VP John Orlando met with FCC Republicans earlier this month to argue that broadcasters "desperately" need to get out from under the new ownership limits imposed by the FCC's decision to eliminate the UHF discount immediately, "without waiting to launch any further proceeding on other ownership issue."

The FCC used to count only half a UHF station's audience toward the 39% national ownership cap, but under then FCC chair Mignon Clyburn the commission back in 2013 voted to propose eliminating the discount.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler circulated an item eliminating the discounts back in the summer. It was approved in September.

Related: FCC Extends Comment Period on UHF Reconsideration

The UHF discount item grandfathers existing ownership groups that would be over the 39% cap once the discount is scrapped. But it does not propose replacing it with a VHF discount, which the FCC had asked for input on.

Orlando pointed out that it took the FCC three years from the time the FCC proposed eliminating the discount to doing so last fall. Since then, he said, according to a copy of the ex parte filing on the meeting with FCC chairman Ajit Pai (he was still a commissioner at the time of the meeting) and Michael O'Rielly, the industry has been "frozen in time...effectively," "foreclosed from applying the UHF discount in calculating our compliance with the ownership rules," while its video competition—online, MVPD—has been "unfettered by ownership limits."

Orlando said there was not a shred of evidence that the discount adversely affected the public interest.

Now chairman Pai dissented from the decision to eliminate the discount, a point Orlando made in his ex parte filing. Pai said he would not be opposed to eliminating the discount if the FCC at the same time looked at adjusting the cap as well but said that doing one without the other was illegally arbitrary and capricious. And while the FCC grandfathered those for whom the change would have forced them to sell stations, it did not allow the grandfathering to transfer with sale of a station group, which he favored.

John Eggerton

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.