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O'Rielly to FCC Diversity Committee: Focus on Incubator

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly had message for the FCC's Diversity Committee, which was re-chartered under new chairman Ajit Pai: Focus on the broadcast incubator program as a way to address the "abysmal" state of ownership diversity after decades of restrictions on ownership.

As part of the FCC Republican majority's November 2017 vote to prune some local ownership rules and loosen others, it addressed the issue of promoting ownership diversity--per instructions from the court--with the proposal, long-championed by chairman Pai, of an incubator program meant to incentive broadcasters to help diversify their ranks through investment and training. 

Related: FCC's Pai Says They're Turning Diversity Talk into Action 

O'Rielly suggested that since decades of local ownership restrictions, well-meaning as they may have been, had not produced results--"The television numbers [of minority or women owners] remain in the single digits and radio is not much better--those restrictions had been part of the problem and the incubator program could be part of the solution. 

He also warned against naysayers. "We all know that some outside parties want the incubator program to fail," he said. "We should recognize that their ultimate goal is not to improve small entity broadcaster ownership. Instead, it is a cynical and destructive play to undermine our media ownership rule changes, currently under court review. They see this as a linchpin to preserve those outdated rules that are not working. The Commission should not be sidelined by such efforts. 

The FCC didn't actually vote to create the incubator program back in November, but instead voted on a notice of proposed rulemaking to seek input on how to create it. Pai said that was because there were still issues to address, like how to design and implement it, what the eligibility criteria should be and how such a program will be reviewed, monitored and enforced, as well as its costs and benefits. "We want to develop a record on how best to structure and administer an incubator program," he said. 

The goal, O'Rielly said, is to address barriers to station ownership, including lack of access to capital and the need for technical expertise, using the carrot spur of regulatory relief for stations willing to participate to provide capital and training. 

He had some criticisms of the committee's current draft proposal, warning that a tax certificate program would be a heavy lift, especially in the near term, and advising against too arbitrary categories of incubator eligibility. He also advised focusing on the regulatory relief that will incentive stations to participate.

John Eggerton
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.