Dems Distressed By FCC JSA Decision

Five Democratic senators have written FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to register their concerns about the FCC's vote to limit joint sales agreements, as well as the decision not to grandfather existing agreements while allowing for waivers in some circumstances.

In the letter, Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin (Md.) and Robert Casey (Pa.) told Wheeler they were worried that the new FCC rules on JSAs would "undermine" broadcasters' ability to serve consumers, something broadcasters have argued in suing the FCC over that decision.

The letter also pointed to the forced unwinding of agreements that were not grandfathered. "These existing agreements were consistent with the law and the rules at the time they were executive, and business plans have been built around them," they said. "Forcing broadcasters to rely on the speculative possibility of a waiver creates substantial business challenges," they said.

The FCC's Media Bureau issued guidance on how it will review transactions involving sharing arrangements, signaling that those with entangling associated financial agreements could take a while to get through—in case broadcasters might want to rethink those.

The senators said they were "disturbed" by reports that the new guidelines had caused applications to be stalled. Sinclair reworked its year-old proposal to buy Allbritton stations to eliminate sharing arrangements and try to get the deal approved.

The senators told Wheeler the FCC should act swiftly on the TV station transactions it is reviewing, and also offered their advice that the FCC should "look favorably" on waivers for JSAs that promote better local news and public affairs, emergency information, diverse programming and more opportunities for women and minorities.

At a Hill hearing this week, FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake said he hoped the JSA limitation would itself boost diverse ownership by allowing more independent owners a chance to buy stations. He also said the FCC would act swiftly on waiver requests and said the FCC had approved some three dozen station deals since March, when the new guidelines were issued.

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.