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FCC Grants Channel-Sharer WRNN's Market Mod Petition

What the FCC took, it is now giving back.

The FCC has granted the market modification petition of New York independent TV station WRNN, primarily due to the "changed circumstance" of the FCC's own broadcast incentive auction.

The FCC encouraged broadcasters to participate in the auction, including sharing others' spectrum after they gave up theirs, and WRNN did, giving up its spectrum for a payout and the ability to stay on the air via a sharing agreement, which it has with WWOR Secaucus.

WRNN is an independent station that had been transmitting out of Kingston in upstate New York and is now co-located atop One World Trade Center in Manhattan and licensed to New Rochelle.

While Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum) was able to get the FCC to remove Bergen County communities from the station's market 20 years ago (based on it being so far from Bergen County), WRNN pointed out that with the move to downtown, it was now much closer to those viewers, and should be able to serve them, as WWOR does and historically has.

The FCC usually looks at historic carriage in a market as a key reason for granting such petitions. WRNN has none, but that is where the special circumstance comes in, the circumstance of the FCC's own prompting.

"We will consider the Station’s dramatic change in circumstances due to its change in community of license and transmitter site relocation as mitigating circumstances with respect to the Station’s lack of historic carriage," the Media Bureau said. But it also warned that this did not mean it was signaling to other channel-sharers.

The bureau said the decision "should not be interpreted as prejudging future market modifications filed by relocated channel sharing stations or affected cable systems. All market modifications are evaluated on the specific facts and circumstances presented in those proceedings."

The FCC has to take a bunch of factors into account two of which are 1) whether "other stations located in the same area, have been historically carried on the cable system or systems within such community," WWOR is, and 2) and whether the station offers "coverage or other local service" to the community.

The FCC concluded that since Spectrum carries not only WWOR but other co-located and "nearby" stations, "[it] believes that WRNN would be at a competitive disadvantage if Spectrum did not also carry WRNN in the Communities."

The FCC concluded WRNN met the second prong, not because of local programming, but because of the local service of its signal coverage, geographic proximity and "shopping and labor patterns."

The FCC warned that this did not mean other repack station channel-sharers could expect similar treatment when seeking market mods.

The FCC is currently in phase four of its 10-phase repack, which is scheduled to be completed by July 3, 2020. 

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.