When it comes to the so-called “UHF discount” that the FCC on Thursday restored, reverse a fall 2016 party-line decision to end it by the Wheeler Commission, American Cable Association President/CEO Matthew M. Polka sides with lone Democratic Commissioner — and dissenter — Mignon Clyburn.
In comments made following the Pai Commission’s 2-1 decision on Thursday, which many mainstream media outlets incorrectly reported as affirming an increase in the Commission’s national ownership limits, Polka was just as tart-tongued as Clyburn.
“By reinstating the technically obsolete UHF discount, the FCC unfortunately makes a bad situation even worse,” Polka said. “Customers served by ACA members are frustrated that their video bills continue to increase excessively. These scandalous increases result from broken retransmission consent rules that empower local TV station owners to gouge smaller video providers and hit them with signal blackouts until their fee demands are met.”
Polka also believes that, “in addition to driving video customers away, TV station retransmission consent practices act as a drag on ACA members’ plans to upgrade and expand their broadband networks.”
Furthermore, it’s Polka’s view that the return of the UHF discount will lead to further consolidation in the local broadcasting market.
“That will give local broadcasters only greater leverage in carriage negotiations, allowing them to drive prices higher and cause even more harmful blackouts,” Polka said. “To lessen the harms of reinstating the UHF discount and harms that will come from the likely further relaxation of the local television ownership rules, the FCC must fix the broken retransmission consent market by acting on the long pending retransmission consent rulemakings.”
It is the contention of Republican leaders in Congress — in addition to Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and GOP Commissioner Michael O’Rielly — that the restoration of the UHF discount was necessary for a full review of the FCC’s national ownership limits.
The Commission plans to address its national television ownership rule “more holistically,” in a proceeding to be launched later this year.
It is the belief of the Republican majority that the August Open Meeting 3-2 Democratic-led vote to do away with the UHF discount “had the effect of substantially tightening the national cap for companies without any analysis of whether this tightening was warranted given current marketplace conditions.”
The UHF discount allows stations broadcasting between Channel 14 and Channel 69 to count 50% of the television households in their market when determining compliance with the 39% national cap.
“The FCC now concludes that the UHF discount and national television ownership cap are inextricably linked and that the Commission’s previous decision erred by getting rid of the UHF discount without simultaneously considering whether the cap itself should be modified,” the Commission said in an official notice on Thursday.