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Senate Commerce Marking Up JSA Bill

The Senate Commerce Committee Thursday will mark up a bipartisan bill backed by broadcasters that would grandfather all the joint sales agreements that would have to be unwound per an FCC decision in March 2014 that most of those JSAs violated local ownership limits.

Marking up means voting on amendments, if there are any, and reporting the bill favorably—or not—to the full Senate for a vote.

The one-paragraph bill simply says that parties to JSAs in effect on the effective date of the FCC decision (March 31, 2014) "shall not be considered to be in violation of the ownership limitations..."

A politically divided FCC voted to make all JSAs in which a station sold more than 15% of a second stations ad inventory equivalent to co-ownership for the purposes of local ownership caps. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler signaled that he was closing a loophole that allowed lawyers to game the ownership rules, while broadcasters said that was preventing combos that could help both stations and their viewers.

The deadline for affected broadcasters to comply with the FCC JSA decision is currently Dec. 19, 2016. The FCC had given broadcasters two years, or until June 19, 2016, to unwind agreements that would violate ownership caps, but the Congress in the STELAR Act extended that deadline for six months.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). More than a year ago, the entire Missouri delegation had asked Wheeler to grandfather existing JSAs.

In introducing the bill, Blunt argued that because the FCC has yet to complete its quadrennial review of its media ownership rules, now not scheduled to be done until 2016, several years late, "the FCC adopted this Order without current knowledge of this complex marketplace and the changes that have occurred and are continuing."

Even so, it would not open the door to any future such JSAs, but would only grandfather those in existence at the time of the decision. 

Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) joined Blunt as original co-sponsors of the bill. Additional sponsors include a bipartisan who's who of the committee including Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

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.