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Minority Broadcasters Ask FCC to Tweak Definition

A group of minority broadcasters officially asked the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider some of the steps it proposed in what it billed as an effort to help them gain access to capital and stations.

Specifically it asked the commission to reconsider its definition of "designated entities" that qualified for the FCC's help.

In a petition for partial reconsideration filed with the FCC Monday, the Council for Diversity and Competition Supporters (DCS), represented by the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, called that definition arbitrary and capricious. "The linchpin of any serious effort to advance minority and women ownership is an eligible entity definition that is not so dilute as to be ineffectual," it argued.

The DCS applauded the FCC for not "summarily rejecting" minority ownership proposals -- the MMTC praised the FCC back in March when the order was officially released. That was no surprise since the MMTC had proposed many of the steps.

But even then the MMTC was concerned with the FCC's definition of "designated entities." The agency defined those entities as "small businesses," which was too broad a definition for their liking.

The small-business initiatives would modify current FCC rules to make it easier to sell stations and permits to build stations to small businesses as defined by the Small Business Administration.

The MMTC and commission Democrats wanted the definition to more specifically address women and minorities, but the majority pointed to Supreme Court decisions on race-based criteria as circumscribing their definition, with FCC chairman Kevin Martin calling that a high hurdle. However, the commission called for comment on how a different definition might be crafted to pass muster.

The DCS said three of the diversity initiatives the FCC adopted, and three more it proposed, are dependent on that definition. Since the commission has said that it was open to rethinking that definition, the MMTC asked it to modify the order to make clear that the definition is an interim measure and "would not be likely to advance minority and women ownership." It also asked that no station applications based on the "small business" definition be precedential.

The MMTC also asked the FCC to reconsider its decision not to grant minority owners public-interest waivers of its 25% limit on foreign ownership of broadcast properties. The DTC proposed the waivers as a way to give those owners greater access to capital. It would have allowed "noncontrolling" foreign investments above that level where the investment would "help to eliminate a barrier to access to capital for domestic, minority-owned broadcasters."

The FCC approved a raft of diversity initiatives and proposed others last December in an effort to wrap up its media-ownership rule review by loosening the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban while at the same time proposing new TV localism requirements and diversity initiatives.