Chairwoman Circulates Proposal to Prioritize Renewal and Assignment Applications For Certain Broadcasters

Posted on November 30th, 2023 by

In a brief November 14, 2023 news release, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced the circulation to Commissioners of a proposal to support local journalism by giving priority processing to renewal and assignment applications of broadcast stations that provide locally originated programming.

A summary of the proposal is all that was announced, so we don’t yet have any detail as to what the FCC would consider “locally originated” programming or what type of priority would result from a presumed application certification that a broadcaster is providing such programming.

Currently, FCC rules provide for a 30-day public comment period for assignment and transfer of control applications, with applications generally being acted upon within the immediately following 30-day period (although of late, that is often longer, depending on whether a radio or television station is involved).  Our understanding is that FCC staffers do not begin to substantively review assignment or transfer of control applications until after the 30-day public comment period is complete, so maybe the proposal will move reviews earlier.  In unique circumstances with staff pre-coordination, an application can be granted soon after the comment period ends.  Perhaps this type of “early” processing is envisioned in the new proposal.

For renewal applications, the proposal might be considering shortening the processing time by acting immediately after the period for public comment ends.  Currently, renewal applications are filed four months prior to license expiration, and unless there are issues, are generally acted upon about four months later within the week before or after license expiration.

We’ll be interested to see if this proposal advances.  As a general matter, the amount of time that expedited application processing might save is not significant, so unless the FCC really retools the application process or rules, the value of a “prioritization” may not be enough to convince stations to complete a programming “local origination” certification to obtain prioritization benefits.  The details will tell us more, but this sounds a little like the FCC trying to indirectly learn which broadcasters are providing locally originated programming, or in what amounts, as part of assessing whether stations truly serve their communities in the public interest.  We can imagine uncomfortable scenarios where stations must end up certifying “no” in a license renewal application to a detailed question on whether and what amounts of locally originated programming they provide. Tricky, to say the least.