FCC May Scrap UHF Discount; Resolution Near in Bloomberg-Comcast Dispute

Sep 6, 2013  •  Post A Comment

Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn announced that the panel’s Sept. 26 public meeting will include a “vote on the proposal to do away with the UHF discount and an order resolving Bloomberg’s long-standing complaint against Comcast for alleged violation of the FCC’s news neighborhooding condition in the NBCU merger,” B&C reports.

“Currently the FCC only counts half of a UHF station’s audience total toward the 39% national ownership cap,” the story says. “That rule dates from the analog TV days when UHF signals were inferior to VHF. The reverse is true in the digital age.”

According to the story, removing the discount “would prevent some super groups, like Sinclair, from getting any more super. And if it were applied to deals in the pipeline [it] would create problems for Tribune’s purchase of local TV stations. It is expected to grandfather any current combos.”

According to sources familiar with the document, the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) also explicitly asks whether, given that turnabout in UHF/VHF fortunes, the FCC should now consider applying the discount to VHFs, the story says.

“The FCC is expected to approve the UHF discount NPRM, but that is no guarantee it will act expeditiously on an order,” the story reports. “It may have signaled the move earlier in the month, when it proposed starting in 2014 to charge UHFs and VHFs the same regulatory fees, rather than charging UHFs less, as it has been doing, also an artifact of its inferior analog status.”

Bloomberg has been pushing the FCC to make a final decision on its complaint against Comcast for what Bloomberg alleges is a violation of the news neighborhooding condition the FCC imposed as a condition of allowing Comcast to meld with NBCU, the story says.

The FCC in May 2012 agreed with Bloomberg that Comcast needed to group news channels in adjacent channel positions to comply with the NBCU deal condition. That condition was meant to prevent Comcast from favoring its co-owned news nets, like MSNBC and CNBC, over independents.

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