Prometheus Fires Away at UHF Discount

Broadcast deregulation foe surfaces once again

Familiar foes of broadcast media ownership deregulation have surfaced once again to try and block a deregulatory move under a Republican commission, signaling they plan to take the FCC to court.

The target is the FCC’s vote last month to reinstate the UHF discount.

That vote, when it becomes official 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, allows an owner of UHF stations to count only half of those stations’ audience reach toward the 39% national ownership reach cap, and paves the way for broadcast merger activity, including Sinclair’s bid to buy Tribune stations (see above).

The previous FCC last year eliminated the discount, which dates from analog days when UHFs were weaker than VHFs, grandfathering existing groups that would have exceeded the 39% cap but saying those groups could not be sold with the discount intact.

The familiar foe is Prometheus, whose challenge to the 2003 broadcast ownership deregulatory proposal of then-FCC chairman Michael Powell resulted in a court stay and an almost 15-year fight over how and whether limits on reach and cross-ownerships and small-market duopolies should be relaxed or eliminated.

Prometheus, joined by other anti-consolidation groups including the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, have asked the FCC to stay the UHF restoration rule until a court can review it. That would either be the Third Circuit that issued the initial 2003 stay of the Powell rules or perhaps another court if the groups file a new challenge.

An attorney for Prometheus et al said what form the judicial challenge would take has yet to be decided.