FCC Will Put 90-Day Shot Clock On JSA Waivers

According to a source familiar with negotiations over the FCC's joint sales agreement (JSA) item, the FCC’s Media Bureau will have 90 days to act on waiver requests.

There will also be a strong presumption that JSAs that benefit diversity are in the public interest, which could be good news for the Sinclair JSAs with Armstrong Williams stations.

Negotiations over the item had stretched into the weekend, with Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said to have pushed for the shot clock, as well as for giving owners more than two years to unwind existing JSAs that would exceed ownership limits, though according to sources that unwind period remains two years.

The media ownership item being teed up for a vote at the FCC Monday (March 31) is also said to include more specificity about what types of JSAs would qualify for a waiver than was in the original draft item.

According to a source familiar with the item, there is more guidance about what a grantable JSA waiver will look like.   But the standard will generally be that an applicant has neither the ability nor the incentive to improperly control another station.

For example, an open ended request for a waiver would not be favored, but one that focuses on a set of principles would be.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said from the outset that the waiver process needed to be expedited and thorough so that the FCC could weed out the bad actors hiding behind the skirts of the good ones and still allow for JSA's that benefit diversity or localism, but the item is said to have been changed to flesh out the waiver standard, thanks in part to the efforts of Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, though a source said changes will be around the edges rather than any major shift in the item.

Clyburn, whose vote will be necessary to pass the item since the Republican commissioners have already signaled they will dissent, has been working to insure that the item properly balanced cracking down on bad actors while fostering   sharing agreements that can boost diversity, particularly in rural markets where joint ownership of stations is disallowed but the need for some financial help is often greatest. Look for the JSA item to include some specific things to advance diversity.

The FCC plans to vote on two media ownership-related orders Monday, one making JSAs above 15% of ad sales attributable under ownership rules and one preventing coordinated retransmission consent negotiations among two or more of the top four stations in a market, plus a rebuttable presumption that coordinated retrans discussions among non-top four stations are not in the public Interest.

Despite some late pushback from the Hill, the item does not grandfather existing JSAs that would exceed FCC ownership limits, giving them those two years to unwind.

The JSA item also includes a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking how the FCC should treat other sharing arrangements, as well as teeing up questions for the 2010 and 2014 quadrennial rule reviews FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has rolled into one. It also asks whether the FCC should change the criteria for its failing station waiver. Loosening those might give broadcasters more opportunities for sharing agreements within the FCC rules.

The coordinated negotiations order also has an accompanying Further Notice, which asks whether the FCC should drop its syndicated exclusivity and network nonduplication rules, though there is no tentative conclusion that that should happen.

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.