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By Lydia Beyoud
Dec. 16 — Congress included in its proposed $1.1 trillion omnibus bill provisions that would stymie restrictions on broadcast ownership limitations put in place by the Federal Communications Commission in 2014.
The fiscal year 2016 spending bill (H.R. 2029) would grandfather in, for 10 years, joint sales agreements (JSAs) between broadcast TV stations in the same market to share advertising and other resources that were in existence on or before March 31, 2014, in what would be a major boon to TV broadcasters. Those agreements would be covered through Sept. 30, 2025.
An FCC spokesman declined to comment on the bill.
The commission determined by a 3-2 party-line vote on March 31, 2014 that JSAs were attributable under the commission's media ownership restrictions . Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said the vote closed a loophole used to circumvent the rules and was intended to prevent ownership consolidation.
“NAB applauds all of the hard work that went into including a joint sales agreement grandfathering provision in the proposed omnibus appropriations bill,” National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said via e-mail. “This provision would allow TV stations to better serve our viewers in smaller markets, and ensure that constituents in those communities continue to have access to numerous free, local programming option,” he said.
The 2,009-page proposed bill also includes language prohibiting the FCC from using appropriations to modify, amend or change its rules or regulations for universal service support payments to implement recommendations from 2004 on single connection or primary line restrictions on universal service support payments.
The Federal Communications Commission would be allotted $384 million under the measure, slightly below the $388 million the Obama administration had sought in its FY 2016 budget request in February. Of that amount, $44 million is designated to facilitate the agency's move to a new location when its current lease runs out in 2017.
Lawmakers did not include any policy riders against the FCC's net neutrality rules, despite rumors in recent weeks that such language might be inserted into the bill. Congress is expected to return to work on possible compromise net neutrality legislation sometime in 2016, pending the outcome of a federal court decision on the FCC's controversial Open Internet reclassification order.
Public interest groups heralded the exclusion of net neutrality provisions in the bill. “Congress created the FCC to serve as the expert agency on communications networks and to deal with technical policy issues on behalf of the public interest,” Chris Lewis, vice president of government affairs for public interest group Public Knowledge, said in a statement.” The additional funding for the FCC in Fiscal Year 2016 will enable the agency to continue promoting the public interest in a time of great technical innovation and rapid transition,” he said.
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