Senators Request Examination of FCC License Review Process

Posted on August 31st, 2018 by

On August 22, 2018, Senators Menendez and Booker of New Jersey filed a request with the Government Accountability Office of the Comptroller General of the United States requesting an examination of the FCC’s license renewal process. The Senators’ request arises out of their apparent frustration from the recent renewal of the license of WWOR-TV (Secaucus, NJ), which they alleged had failed to serve its community, and their claim that the FCC turned a blind eye in approving the renewal.

Based on the general accusations, the Senators asked the GAO to examine a list of questions that essentially address the FCC license renewal process relating to the needs of the local community, and to further determine what standards, if any, exist at the FCC in making renewal determinations.

The FCC has not commented on the request, but we don’t see the request gaining much traction, as the FCC retains exclusive authority as an administrative agency to establish renewal guidelines. Nevertheless, every time the 8-year license renewal cycle rolls around, we generally see some machinations about license renewal criteria or terms (last time around, a Commissioner was calling for 3-year license renewal terms instead of 8 years).

As we’ve written before, this kind of license renewal “angst” is quite possibly a harbinger of heightened scrutiny by various groups during license renewal, especially with respect to the primary means for third parties to determine how a station is serving its community – quarterly issues/program reports. With public files now being accessible online to anyone 24/7, it is really simple for someone to “dig” through your file to see how your quarterly issues/program reports measure up. Untimely, incomplete, or non-compliant quarterly issues/program reports will require a license renewal applicant to “fess up” in the renewal application. The first license renewal applications are due in 2019.