NAB Asks to Intervene for FCC in UHF Fight

Tells appeals court stay of discount's return would harm broadcasters

The National Association of Broadcasters has weighed in in support of the FCC at a federal appeals court currently being asked to stay the FCC's decision to restore the UHF discount.

The NAB strongly backed the discount's return under new Republican FCC chair Ajit Pai because it allows owners of UHF TV stations to count only one-half of their audience reach toward the 39% ownership cap -- and helps large groups like Sinclair Broadcasting heavy up when they would otherwise run into the cap.

On Tuesday (May 30) the NAB asked a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to permit it to intervene in a request by Free Press and others for an emergency stay of the decision's effective date of June 5. Free Press and company also asked the FCC to stay and reconsider the decision, but when it did not hear back for a couple of weeks, decided to go straight to the court given next Monday's looming effective date.

The NAB argued that the FCC's decision under former Democratic chair Tom Wheeler to eliminate the discount -- given that the discount dates from the analog days when UHF signals were inferior to VHF signals -- had unlawfully altered that broadcast ownership calculation without considering whether it was in the public interest.

The NAB said the Pai-led FCC rightly concluded that the Wheeler discount order ws a piecemeal effort both arbitrary and capricious under law and "unwise from a public policy perspective," and that the discount should be reinstated until a more holistic look later this year, in "a proceeding to consider whether it is in the public interest to modify the national TV ownership rule, including the UHF discount."

As to the NAB's right to intervene in the case, the association said, "Granting the relief requested by Petitioners in this case would directly harm NAB members by tightening the national TV ownership limit through alteration of the rule’s calculation methodology without any consideration of whether a more restrictive rule serves the public interest. NAB is therefore entitled to intervene."

The court has given the FCC until Thursday to respond to the stay request, and Free Press et al. until the next day to respond to that response.

The three-judge panel hearing the petition for stay comprises Sri Srinivasan, Thomas Griffith and Cornelia Pillard.