GOP Commissioners: Is FCC Driving Stations Off Air?

Republican FCC commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly, who voted against making most joint sales agreements (JSAs) attributable as ownership interests, said recent stations going dark, or planning to, was just what they were worried about. The FCC's new JSA restrictions went into effect June 19.

TV stations that provide more than 15% of the weekly sales of another, same-market station, are now considered to have an ownership interest in that station in terms of local ownership caps.

In a joint statement June 24, they pointed to stations in South Carolina and Alabama that were slated to go dark (as part of Sinclair's effort to get the FCC to approve its purchase of Allbritton stations), and stations that have already gone off the air in Nebraska and North Dakota and more slated to exit related to a Gray Television transaction.

"Specifically, as a result of the FCC’s crackdown, and after more than 58 years of providing service to Central Nebraska and Northern Kansas, KHAS in Hastings, Nebraska went dark eleven days ago," they said. "That same day, KNDX in Bismarck, North Dakota and KXND in Minot, North Dakota also went off the air because of the Commission’s decision."

In those cases, the station owners are using their multicast channels to broadcast the programming formerly on the stations going dark as a way to continue to provide the programming where they can no longer support the stations through joint sales agreements.

In addition, Gray has announced that three more stations will go off the air—KXJB Fargo, N.D.; KAQY Monroe, La.; and KJCT Grand Junction, Colo.—and their programming moved to multicast channels, to accommodate FCC restrictions.

"Are these the victories for competition that critics of sharing agreements were hoping to see? Or has the real goal all along just been to drive television stations off the air?" the commissioners said. Broadcasters are concerned the FCC's ownership policies are a way to encourage them to give up spectrum to the incentive auction.

"We hope that Gray Television succeeds in its efforts to find a buyer for KHAS, KNDX, and KXND so these stations can return to the airwaves. We also hope that the company is able to find a buyer for KXJB, KAQY, and KJCT so these stations will only be off the air for a limited period of time. But it could be difficult for a station to be viable in markets of this size over the long term with neither a major network affiliation nor a sharing agreement. That’s proving to be a feature, not a bug, of the FCC’s new rules."

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.