FCC Considers Making Sept. 26 UHF Discount End Date

The FCC's notice of proposed rulemaking
(NPRM) on eliminating the UHF discount continues to be "in flux"
according to one FCC source as the commissioners' offices negotiate changes,
but it could get rid of the discount for any deals done after Sept. 26. Other deals would be

Acting Chairman
Mignon Clyburn has teed up a vote for Sept. 26 on eliminating the UHF discount. Even
broadcasters who would be just as happy for the discount to remain concede it
is tough to argue against getting rid of it purely from a policy perspective.
UHF stations were spectrally inferior in analog, which was the reason the FCC
only counted half their audience toward the national ownership cap of 39%. In
digital, they are superior.

Plus, broadcasters
can read the policy tea leaves. There are likely at least two (Democratic)
votes for getting rid of the UHF discount, which is all the acting chairwoman
needs in this abbreviated--3 member--commission.

But the key issue
now is when eliminating the discount will go into effect. At press time they
were still negotiating that point--which was described as "still in play--but
it appeared to be leaning toward Sept. 26: "I think generally the
cut-off is going to be seen as the release of the NPRM," said one FCC

The Democrats appear
to be leaning toward signaling to would-be buyers that the commission will
treat the Sept. 26 vote to approve the rulemaking as the
date it will start counting all UHF eyeballs, even though it must still get
comment on the rulemaking, which includes other elements, and vote a final
order. One source said that seemed to be where the order was headed, but that
the point was still in play and could change by Monday.

The idea of making
the NPRM the trigger is to prevent a land rush of deals trying to get in under
the wire, said one source, adding there is precedent for having an NPRM assume
the new rules are in effect in the interim between the NPRM and order votes.

Broadcasters argue
that would be unfairly jumping the gun. "It's not fair and it's not good
government," said one D.C. broadcast exec following the item closely.

As previously
reported, the item also asks whether the FCC should start applying a discount
to VHF's now that the fortunes are reversed. But it does not ask whether the
39% cap needs to be raised, which some Washington broadcasters see as a glaring
omission given that the FCC does say in the order that it has the authority to
adjust the cap.

The commissioners'
offices had no comment at press time on the negotiations.

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.