The Federal Communications Commission's decision to relax the national broadcast-ownership cap ignored the market power of the "Big Four" networks and, as a result, represented "arbitrary and capricious" decision-making, the affiliates of ABC, NBC and CBS told a federal court Tuesday.
In June, the FCC agreed to allow a TV-station group to reach 45% of all TV households, up from 35%. The change helped CBS and Fox, which have been operating at about 40% under waivers.
"The [FCC] majority sought to justify its decision to increase the cap to 45% in three short paragraphs of its order. These crucial but summary paragraphs evince quintessential arbitrary and capricious agency decision-making," CBS, NBC and ABC said.
The affiliates made their case in a filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia. Last month, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit issued a stay barring the FCC from enforcing the new rules pending appeal.
During debate at the FCC, CBS and Fox called for the elimination of the ownership cap. The affiliates, fearing domination by their network-programming suppliers, sought retention of the 35% cap.