FCC Votes to Launch Incubator Program

The FCC has voted to approve, with one strong dissent, the framework for an incubator program that will grant stations media regulatory relief if they successfully help minority or female owners to buy a full-power station, or put struggling owners on firmer footing.

The program was proposed as part of the FCC's November 2014 media ownership regulation rollback, which needed to address diversity issues per a court remand.

Under the program, existing broadcasters -- the program will start with radio, though it could be extended to TV -- will get a waiver of local ownership rules if they successfully mentor a diverse owner over a three-year period.

Related: Pai Outlines Incubator Program

Some had asked that broadcasters be given the alternative carrot of a tax break instead, but that was not adopted.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who was the lone dissenter, echoed the rhetorical style of Winston Churchill when she said the incubator did "too little, for too many who have waited too long," particularly against the current FCC's effort to roll back media ownership rules. She said allowing a few companies to own so many properties hardly benefited diversity or competition.

She said the FCC had dismantled those values with its rollback of media ownership regs, and had "set the most basic values on fire."

She used her statement to talk a little about the Trump administration, though not explicitly, saying a rush of consolidation was not going to help ferret out fact from fiction, and would not remedy the problem of the highest levels of government stirring up angry sentiment, denouncing news as false facts and bestowing favors for flatterers.

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She called the incubator an apparent apology for allowing that and, clearly in her view, an insufficient one.

FCC chair Ajit Pai countered that when Rosenworcel was in the majority -- calling her the "current minority" -- the FCC had talked a lot about diversity but done nothing, except let the diversity committee's charter lapse.

He said under his leadership the FCC was finally doing something, evoking Elvis in saying it was time for "a little less conversation, a little more action," a recurring theme.

Related: 'We're Turning Diversity Talk Into Action,' FCC's Pai Says

Pai noted that the previous FCC had rejected his proposal for a similar incubator program.

Commissioner Michael O'Rielly argued that the media ownership regs the FCC had loosened were to blame for the "abysmal" state of diverse ownership. He also thanked Pai for reversing a previous limitation on selling the incubated stations, saying that restriction could undermine the program. He said that also demonstrated that significant edits could still be made to items after the draft was circulated three weeks prior to a meeting.

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.