Federal Government Shutdown Freezes FCC Action

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WASHINGTON — The federal government shutdown is taking a toll on the Federal Communications Commission, and the folks who rely on it.

For example, cable-operator attempts to block Sinclair Broadcasting’s purchase of Allbritton Communications-owned stations, including WJLA-TV in Washington, have run into issues related to Congress’ failure to pass a temporary spending bill last Tuesday (Oct. 1).

The American Cable Association, the trade group representing smaller, independent cable operators, and a handful of other petitioners were facing an Oct. 4 deadline for replying to Sinclair’s opposition to the FCC petition. With the agency and its website shut down, though, no one is available to file that reply with at the moment.

The ACA does not want the FCC to approve the sale and spinoff of Allbritton stations. It said those spinoff stations, for which Allbritton would continue to provide services through sharing agreements, are spinoff s in name only, and that Sinclair will continue to control the station, skirting FCC local-ownership rules.

Sinclair has said the ACA’s petition is without merit; that a second petition by public-interest law firm Free Press should be dismissed because the deal is fully within the rules; that a third petition by civil-rights group the Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a stale rehash of unrelated issues; and that yet another petition is based on irrelevant mischaracterizations.

Because of the government shutdown, the FCC will be delayed in reviewing, and presumably acting on, ACA’s or the other petitions.

According to ACA calculations, the petitions will now be due three days after the government reopens, an attorney for the trade group said. Free Press wasn’t sure when it would be filing, but said it would have been ready Oct. 4.

Parties waiting to install a full complement of FCC commissioners to deal with the agency’s full plate of issues — incentive auctions and spectrum reclamation top that list — may have to wait a bit longer.

Last week’s planned vote on Republican FCC nominee Michael O’Rielly was postponed with no new date given, thanks to the shutdown and its impact on the Senate Commerce Committee’s schedule. The chairman-designate, Democrat Tom Wheeler, won’t get a vote in the full House until O’Rielly can be approved and they are paired for a full Senate vote.

A House Communications Subcommittee hearing on FCC moves to free up more 5 GHz spectrum also had to be rescheduled for last week. The subcommittee had been planning to examine the “challenges and opportunities” in the 5 GHZ band, where cable operators have been pushing for more unlicensed WI-Fi spectrum and the FCC has taken steps to accommodate it and other unlicensed users.

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