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Senate Bill Would Grandfather JSAs - Broadcasting & Cable

Senate Bill Would Grandfather JSAs

Would preclude new limits from applying to combos in effect at time
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The National Association of Broadcasters Monday praised the introduction of a bill that would exempt all joint sales agreements in effect at the time of the FCC's decision that made most of them attributable as ownership interest.

The Bill is backed by a bipartisan quartet of powerful senators.

The one-paragraph bill simply says that parties to JSAs in effect on the effective date of the FCC decision (March 31, 2014) "shall not be considered to be in violation of the ownership limitations..."

A politically divided FCC voted to make all JSAs in which a station sold more than 15% of a second stations ad inventory equivalent to co-ownership for the purposes of local ownership caps. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler signaled that he was closing a loophole that allowed lawyers to game the ownership rules, while broadcasters said that was preventing combos that could help both stations and their viewers.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) joined Blunt as original co-sponsors of the bill.

“This is about protecting our constituents’ access to local news, politics, sports, cultural events, and emergency notifications from their own states,” said Mikulski. “Local broadcasters who play by the rules should be able to trust that Washington won’t make rule changes apply retroactively in ways that harm their ability to serve their communities.”

The deadline for affected broadcasters to comply with the new joint sales agreements rule change is currently Dec. 19, 2016.

The FCC had given broadcasters two years, or until June 19, 2016, to unwind agreements that would violate ownership caps, but the Congress in the STELAR Act extended that deadline for six months.

“Joint Sales Agreements in Missouri and across the country have helped save TV stations from going dark, increased program diversity, and enabled local news programming for many TV broadcasters,” Blunt said in a statement. “For instance, a JSA enabled a Joplin, Missouri station to upgrade its Doppler radar system, which helped save lives during the devastating tornado of 2011. This bipartisan bill would protect TV broadcasters with pre-existing JSAs from the FCC’s controversial rule that could otherwise prevent citizens in rural areas from getting their news.”

More than a year ago, the entire Missouri delegation had asked Wheeler to grandfather existing JSAs.

Blunt also suggested that the FCC had leapt before it looked. "The FCC has not carried out its statutorily required quadrennial review of media ownership rules in more than six years," his website said in explaining the JSA issue. "As a result, the FCC adopted this Order without current knowledge of this complex marketplace and the changes that have occurred and are continuing."

The FCC adopted the rule change at the same time it said it was combining its 2010 and 2014 quadrennial reviews, which would not be completed until 2016. 

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