FCC Will Follow Old Rules for Now


Too bad, investment bankers: The Federal Communications Commission isn’t ready to allow big buyers to gobble up local TV markets in a new round of mergers.

The FCC signaled Friday it will continue enforcing the older, tighter versions of its local broadcast-ownership restrictions while the newer ones are reviewed by federal judges.

By rejecting Sinclair Broadcasting’s bid to buy five stations, the FCC settled uncertainty about its authority to block industry mergers. A top official late last year threw the status of local and national caps into doubt when he mused aloud at a trade conference whether the legal limbo permitted the FCC to enforce any limits all.

Since then, Congress settled the issue as far as the national cap goes by setting a broadcaster’s U.S. reach at 39% of TV homes.

Citing the musings of FCC Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree, Sinclair made its third attempt to buy five stations from Cunningham Broadcasting. Two previous attempts were rejected because Sinclair already owns stations in the markets, which are too small to permit duopolies under the old limit set in 1999.

The news wasn’t all bad for Sinclair, which continues to operate the stations under local marketing agreements. The FCC did say that it would be eligible to own all five stations if relaxed duopoly limits set last spring are upheld by a federal appeals court.

The agency also dismissed, as it has several times before, the Rainbow/PUSH coalition’s petition to force Sinclair to disband the LMA’s.