FCC Won't Consider 39% Cap at July Meeting

Despite recent buzz that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai would be scheduling a vote at the July 12 public meeting on a proposal related to the FCC's review of the 39% ownership cap/UHF discount at the FCC's, such an item did not make the agenda.

Pai blogged Wednesday about the items on that July meeting, and while there was a potential media ownership deregulation item on it—children's TV rules—three was  no mention of the discount or cap.

Drafts of the meeting items won't be circulated until Thursday (June 21).

Related: Nexstar: 50% Cap Would Be Arbitrary and Capricious

An FCC spokesperson would not comment on the absence of that item, but confirmed it would not be voted at the meeting and nothing had been circulated. The FCC had neither confirmed nor denied the initial story that the item would be voted at the meeting, so that could have been a plan that changed. 

The chairman has been under pressure from Democrats not to make any more deregulatory moves before deciding whether Sinclair can merge with Tribune and capitalize on the deregulatory moves the FCC has already made. 

The cap item's absence from the July meeting almost certainly means no decision until August. The chairman could circulate an item for a vote not at a public meeting, but that would be highly unlikely given the importance of the issue and the chairman's championing of transparency.

Related: Pai Hits Digital Highway

If the FCC voted to retain the UHF discount or alternatively raise the cap, it could allow Sinclair's proposed merger with Tribune to go through even if a court later reversed a previous FCC' decision to restore the discount while it undertook the review of the cap and discount in tandem. 

There are almost certainly three Republican votes for at least loosening the ownership cap. Some broadcasters have argued for raising the cap to 50% or grandfathering current UHF discounts for groups that would otherwise exceed the cap. Others have argued for shifting the discount to VHFs. The UHF cap dates from analog days when those stations were inferior to VHFs, a situation that is reversed in digital. 

The FCC opened a combined cap and discount proceeding after reinstating the UHF discount, arguing the previous FCC should not have eliminated the discount without also considering the cap at the same time, since the two were linked. The FCC was under no obligation to review the cap, but it is part of current chairman Ajit Pai's broader deregulatory review.

Also on the July 12 agenda, according to the chairman, are votes on freeing up midband spectrum in the C-band, rules to prevent the kind of false emergency alerts that had Hawaii fearing a nuclear attack, an item advancing number portability between carriers, and an item to streamline the formal complaint process at the Enforcement Bureau.

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.