Thursday, November 14, 2013

FCC Votes to Ease Rule On Foreign Ownership

The FCC voted to allow foreign entities to invest more than 25% in broadcast stations, although the agency will still determine whether such investments can be made on a case-by-case basis, according to Variety.

Commissioners on Thursday described the 25% cap as outdated, especially as foreign ownership above that threshold has been allowed for telecommunications.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, presiding over his first open commission meeting, said that the change should help free up capital for broadcasters, helping improve local broadcasting, minority media ownership and a more efficient use of spectrum.  He noted that the agency was still free to review national security and other concerns in making a decision on whether to grant an ownership stake.

“This will be a case-by-case detailed review of whatever information is presented,” he said.

All five commissioners voted for the change.

Commissioner Ajit Pai called the change a “much needed step toward leveling the regulatory playing field.” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel noted that the reasons for the cap date to concerns that a foreign entity may disrupt ship-to-shore communications.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, the move comes at a time of frenzied consolidation in the TV station market and could have immediate implications for Mexican media conglomerate Grupo Televisa which owns 8% of the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications in a deal structured around the foreign-ownership cap. Televisa could now be a potential suitor for Univision, which is controlled by private-equity firms but said to be considering a potential IPO in the first quarter of 2015.

The FCC has long had the ability to waive the 25% foreign-ownership cap for individual companies, but in practice has rarely used it. Mr. Wheeler said the declaratory ruling is "far from a rubber stamp" and that every application to exceed cap would be subject to a detailed review.

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