Senate Dems to FCC: Go easy on broadcasters

A group of Senate Democrats is asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to show leniency to broadcasters that have resource sharing agreements, which are now banned.

In a Thursday letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the lawmakers said they worry the result of the agency’s new rules “will be less competition since certain broadcasters may be forced to cease operations, which would harm not only the broadcasters themselves but also the viewers they serve.”

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Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) signed the letter.

With their request, the Senate Democrats join Republicans and broadcasters in expressing concern that the FCC’s recent actions to curb collusion between broadcasters will unfairly hurt the companies and their viewers.

In March, the FCC voted 3-2 to effectively prohibit broadcasters from sharing advertising sales resources. 

The agency also said it would examine other resource-sharing agreements and would look unfavorably on the agreements when examining deals between broadcast companies.

Critics of the broadcast industry hailed the moves as a way to crackdown on broadcasters that had skirted the agency’s ownership restrictions, but some industry groups — led by the National Association of Broadcasters, which sued over the actions — said the new rules would burden companies who have to unwind the agreements that the agency had allowed for years.

“These existing agreements were consistent with the law and rules at the time they were executed, and business plans have been built around them,” the Senate Democrats told Wheeler in the letter.

While broadcasters can file for an exemption from the new rule, “forcing broadcasters to rely on the speculative possibility of a waiver creates substantial business challenges,” the lawmakers said.

The Democrats pushed Wheeler to avoid penalizing broadcasters with preexisting resource-sharing deals.

The FCC should also allow future resource-sharing deals between broadcasters “that promote more or better local news, public affairs and emergency information, diverse programming such as foreign language and expended ownership opportunities for minorities or women in broadcasting,” the Senate Democrats wrote.