Republicans call for FCC to backtrack on broadcast limits

Two Republicans on the Federal Communications Commission and the House Energy and Commerce Committee have teamed up to call on the agency to reverse its limits on broadcasters’ advertising deals.

Commissioner Ajit Pai and Rep. Billy LongWilliam (Billy) H. LongThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal Bad weather stops Pelosi, lawmakers from attending Dingell funeral service The Hill's 12:30 Report: State of the Union takeaways | Sights and sounds from the night | Virginia attorney general admits he wore blackface MORE (R-Mo.) on Monday wrote an op-ed in Broadcasting and Cable criticizing the FCC’s rules banning stations from selling each other’s ads.

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The restrictions are overly stringent and threaten “broadcasters’ ability to serve local communities during future disasters,” they wrote, noting the importance of broadcast stations during events like the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo.

Earlier this year, the FCC placed new limits on deals that allow one broadcast station to sell advertising for another — known as “joint sales agreements” (JSAs) — by declaring that any station that sold 15 percent or more of another’s advertising counted as an owner of that station. Other FCC rules prohibit one company from owning more than one of the top four broadcast stations in a media market, so the new rules effectively banned many of those agreements. 

Supporters of the crackdown warned that broadcasters were using a legal loophole to pool their resources and skirt the agency’s existing rules. Opponents, including many Republicans, however, predicted it would cause stations to close.

A handful of stations have indeed closed since the FCC’s action, blaming the new restrictions.

“As a direct result of the FCC’s policy, there’s less video choice in smaller markets across America,” Pai and Long wrote. “And this recent string of closings is just the tip of the iceberg.”

“Without those JSAs, the end result will be fewer television stations and less news and weather programming for residents of Southwest Missouri— especially during emergencies, when it counts,” they added. “That’s why it’s time for the FCC to reverse course on JSAs.”