Trump Orders High-Level Review of Foreign Ownership of FCC Licenses

President Donald Trump has ordered the review and possible revocation of the applications for, or sales of, FCC licenses, but it has nothing to do with the President's view of media outlets or his legal team's threats against TV station owners. 

Trump issued an executive order Saturday (April 4) establishing the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector. 

Related: FCC Denies China Mobile Interconnect 

The committee's aim is to help keep the telecommunications sector secure from foreign threats to national security, including by revoking existing licenses if necessary. The new committee will be chaired by Attorney General William Barr and funded by the Department of Justice. 

The committee will make recommendations to the FCC on whether it should "dismiss an application, deny an application, condition the grant of an application upon compliance with mitigation measures, modify a license with a condition of compliance with mitigation measures, or revoke a license." 

The committee will comprise Barr, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and any other head of an agency or an assistant to the President and Trump's discretion. It will be authorized to collect info from applicants to help with that review. That info can't be disclosed outside the committee and committee advisers. 

Related: FCC Sets Deadlines for Foreign-Owned Media Outlet Reports

Advisers to the committee will include the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Commerce, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the United States Trade Representative, the director of National Intelligence, the administrator of General Services, the assistant to the president for National Security Affairs, the Assistant to the president for Economic Policy, the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. 

The FCC will refer applications to the committee for review. If the committee determines that granting a license does  not raise a risk to national security or law enforcement, it will tell the FCC so. It has 120 days to make a recommendation from the time applicant responses to committee questions are complete. That is, unless it says it needs to further evaluate the application, in which case it gets another 90 days to make a recommendation. 

Related: Russian Television Says It Has Registered As Foreign Agent

The committee can also review existing licenses, but that will take a majority vote of the committee. For any license reviewed, existing or applied for, the Director of National Intelligence will provide a written threat assessment. The director has 30 days to provide that assessment from when the committee has gotten all the answers it requested from an applicant or from when the chair seeks such an assessment. 

“I applaud the President for formalizing Team Telecom review and establishing a process that will allow the Executive Branch to provide its expert input to the FCC in a timely manner, "said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. "Now that this Executive Order has been issued, the FCC will move forward to conclude our own pending rulemaking on reform of the foreign ownership review process. As we demonstrated last year in rejecting the China Mobile application, this FCC will not hesitate to act to protect our networks from foreign threats. At the same time, we welcome beneficial investment in our networks and believe that this Executive Order will allow us to process such applications more quickly.”

“Releasing the strategy is an important step toward building out secure, trusted 5G networks across the United States," said 5G Action Chairman Mike Rogers. "Providing certainty for businesses and coordinating nationwide efforts will go a long way to helping driving American innovation and investment.”

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.