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FCC Prepares to Defend Broadcast Ownership Deregulation

FCC attorneys are probably hoping the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit won't issue its decision on Mozilla's challenge to the commission's Restoring Internet Freedom ISP deregulation order Tuesday (June 11). (The court releases opinions Tuesdays and Thursdays and case watchers are looking for a decision anytime now.) 

That is because a number of those FCC attorneys, including General Counsel Tom Johnson, will be on their way to Philadelphia for oral argument in the challenge to the FCC's media ownership deregulation, according to an FCC source. 

That argument is scheduled for Tuesday at 1 p.m. 

Related: Prometheus Fires Back at FCC 

The Prometheus Radio Project, which has been battling media deregulation for a decade and a half, filed suit against the FCC's fall 2017 decision, under chairman Ajit Pai, which eliminated the newspaper-broadcast and the radio-TV cross-ownership rules; allowed dual station ownership in markets with fewer than eight independent voices after the duopoly, creating an opportunity for ownership of two of the top four stations in a market on a case-by-case basis (the FCC was not calling it a waiver); eliminated attribution of joint sales agreements as ownership; and created a diversity incubator program. 

In doing so, the FCC reversed a decision by the previous FCC Democratic majority to leave most of the rules in place. Prometheus had challenged that decision, too, not because it had left most of the rules in place, but because Prometheus said it, again, did not sufficiently take diversity into account, which would have led to imposing more regs, not simply leaving most in place. That earlier challenge has yet to be resolved. 

Joined by the Media Mobilizing Project, Prometheus wants the court to reverse the 2017 decision and require the FCC to "fully comply" with the court's direction in remanding a previous Quadrennial decision after Prometheus challenged it. The FCC is under congressional orders to review its regs every four years to make sure they are in the public interest. In their bids for Tribune stations, both Sinclair and Nexstar looked to take advantage of that deregulation to hold on to more stations. 

Prometheus argues that the Pai FCC also failed to respond to the Third Circuit's direction, in remanding a previous attempt to deregulate and that it get better data on ownership diversity before deregulating. 

Pai has signaled that he does not plan to reinstitute a reporting form that has not been issued for years under both Democratic and Republican administrations, but which FCC Democrats and some in Congress say should be reinstated.   

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.