FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said on Thursday that if the FCC
proceeds to count some joint sales agreements (JSAs) toward local TV station
ownership caps, it would be an "unforced error," and that the
commission must treat broadband as a complement, not replacement, for broadcast.
That came in a speech to the Media Institute Thursday. Pai
wants the FCC to loosen the local ownership rules, so said he found it
"amazing" that the proposal currently on the table would tighten them
by adding the JSAs and possibly shared-service agreements.
Those proposals remain on the table rather than in the
outbox, however, as the FCC continues to vet comments from parties citing
potential impact of deregulation on minority and women ownership. The item has
yet to be voted and FCC chairman Julius Genachowski appears in no hurry to push
Pai pointed to a JSA between two stations in his home state
of Kansas where a Univision affiliate, an Entravision station, was able to
create the only Spanish-language newscast in the state, and another in Missouri
between Nexstar and Mission that allowed for expanded news coverage, he said.
He said JSAs were particularly important for smaller markets
-- the ones where they would most likely be prevented by a new FCC rule -- where
station revenue is a fraction of that in larger markets.
According to sources, the FCC could soften the JSA hit by
pushing it into a further notice of proposed rulemaking, or grandfather
enforcement, but that there continues to be impetus from the commissioner
Democratic majority to could JSAs toward the local caps, as they already are
toward local radio ownership caps.
Pai told B&C after the speech that he would be hard-pressed to support a Media ownership item that he will be hard-pressed to support the Media Ownership item if JSA's remain a part of it. "I would have great difficulty supporting an item that not only did not provide sufficient relaxation of our existing rules, but also tightened some of our rules that would impeded, if not destroy, the local news programming across the country, especially in local markets.
Pai also cited the FCC's Superstorm Sandy hearing in New
York and New Jersey earlier this week as a reason for praising, rather than burying,
"I learned about the vital service that local
broadcasters provided during Superstorm Sandy. When other methods of
communications failed, broadcasters transmitted lifesaving information and alerts
to the public," he said.
He then suggested that the currently broadband-centric FCC
should include broadcasting in its world view, long-term. "As we head into
the future, we can't expect to substitute broadband for broadcast. Instead, we
should view them as complements."