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D.C. Weighs In on UHF Discount

Washington, D.C., was quick to respond to the court decision not to block the FCC's reimposition of the UHF discount, at least while it decides a court challenge to that decision under FCC chairman Ajit Pai.

The decision allows deals like the Sinclair-Tribune merger to proceed, which without the discount would have exceeded the FCC's 39% cap on national audience reach. 

"The FCC’s order eliminating the UHF discount [voted last fall by a Democratic majority and against the Republicans' dissent] was made without a comprehensive review of broadcast media ownership rules. NAB supports the Court’s decision denying the stay request.” 

Chairman Pai had said the discount decision by the Democrats was reversed because it did not also include considering the impact on the 39% cap.

"The Court ruled with prudence today in allowing the FCC to proceed with a broader review of media ownership," said Adonis Hoffman, chairman of Business in the Public Interest. "This also is a green light for broadcast M&A."

But there were plenty of folks putting the "diss" in discount, particularly from those who had sought the stay. 

“The UHF discount has long outlived its usefulness,” said former FCC chairman Michael Copps, currently a special adviser to Common Cause. “Reinstating it was a huge, unwarranted gift to Big Broadcast. So it is disappointing that the court did not rein in the broadcast-friendly majority at the FCC. We remain committed to halting the wave of media consolidation the FCC majority has sought to unleash.” 

“We're disappointed by the court's decision to deny the stay, but still plan to show the unlawful nature of the FCC's arbitrary and capricious decision under review in this case,” said Gaurav Laroia, policy counsel for Free Press. “Chairman Pai's decision to revive this obsolete rule would allow broadcast consolidation far beyond the already high limits set by Congress. And that would grease the skids for companies like Sinclair to cash in, acquiring other media conglomerates like Tribune with the merger those two companies proposed last month. Runaway broadcast consolidation at the national and local level is bad for competition, diversity and localism in broadcasting. Sinclair's practices are a prime example of how consolidation undermines those three principles, with its penchant for dictating coverage to local affiliates and intervening in the editorial decisions of the stations it owns."

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.