Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Communications Subcommittee, and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, are not happy with the FCC Media Bureau's announcement of the guidelines it will be using to scrutinize TV station sharing agreements with associated financial elements like options to buy or shared lenders.
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has signaled that the public interest standard will be applied on a case-by-case basis on such deals, which allows the FCC to look beyond whether a deal is merely not anticompetive to whether it is procompetitive or serves localism or diversity. The Media Bureau put an exclamation point on that, though it raised question marks—more like alarm bells—with the Republican commissioners and now the Reps. Upton and Walden, the latter a former broadcaster who has employed sharing agreements.
“Coming on the heels of the House's overwhelming bipartisan approval of the FCC Process Reform Act Monday evening," they said in a joint statement, "the FCC Media Bureau's action not only flies in the face of reform, it reveals an alarming disregard for process. This effort raises questions about Chairman Wheeler’s stated commitment to process reform. This end-run around the full commission is a step back for transparency and reform, and sadly, consumers are the ones who stand to lose the most."
"[T]he item appears to set forth a new policy and, therefore, should have been voted by the Commission, rather than on delegated authority," said commissioner Michael O'Rielly after the Bureau released the public notice last Wednesday (March 12).
FCC commissioner Ajit Pai took issue with the bureau's assertion it was not setting policy. He objected to the notice, but was told it "merely clarified existing ccmmission policy. It does not."
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