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Sources: UHF Item Doesn't Pose Question Of Raising 39% Cap

It looks as though the FCC will not be contemplating raising the 39% cap on national TV station audience reach when it votes later today to eliminate the UHF discount, according to sources familiar with the item at press time Thursday morning.

Broadcasters had been pressing the FCC to at least make that one of the questions it will ask as part of its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, since the FCC will be pushing every UHF station owner closer to that cap with the ruling, and at a time when broadcasters argue they need more economies of scale to be competitive in a multiplatform world tilting toward broadband.

Look for that omission to draw a dissent from Republican Ajit Pai, who according to sources inside and outside the FCC wanted the commission to at least open that possibility up for comment, as it is doing others.

The FCC is not likely to act on its long-overdue--2010--congressionally mandated media ownership rule review for many months. The UHF proceeding could be one place to provide broadcasters some regulatory relief via raising the cap, particularly since after the UHF discount is eliminated, those stations full audiences will count toward the cap, rather than the 50% that had been the case previously. That dates from the analog days when UHF signals were inferior to V's--tuning in some elusive U's was akin to cracking a safe or securing a distant radio signal.

Apparently the NPRM makes clear the FCC thinks it can adjust the 39% cap, up or down, on its own initiative.

The FCC item may go in the other direction however; asking whether the FCC should start giving VHF stations a discount. It would be in the FCC's interest to make those more attractive than V's, since it is encouraging broadcasters to trade U for V spectrum positions in the broadcaster incentive auction.