FCC streamlines foreign ownership rules

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

Rules mean US broadcasters no longer have to survey or sample shareholders

The Federal Communications Commission has adopted to new rules that will streamline the process by which foreign owners can buy US broadcast properties.

The unanimous vote passed the rules at the commission’s September meeting, the second time they had been approved following a similar vote in October 2015.

The approved item extends to broadcasters streamlined foreign ownership approval processes that currently apply to common carrier wireless licenses. This means they no longer have to survey or sample shareholders.

Previous FCC rules assumed that any unknown shareholder was not a US citizen, but the revamped regulations mean broadcasters will be made to take "reasonable measures” to identify foreign shareholders with a predictable ability to influence the company.

Foreign ownership of US broadcasters is limited by the Communications Act, which states only a US citizen can directly own a station. Though this will not change, the move will open up the cable-box marketplace by allowing broadcast licensee’s to petition for a declaratory ruling including approval of up to and including 100% aggregate foreign ownership of its controlling parent.

Until 2013, the FCC banned any foreign investment in US broadcast stations that were greater than 25%. Even with the relaxation of this 25% limit in 2013, however, there were no standardized FCC approval procedures for indirect ownership in excess of 25%.

The item also allows a non-controlling foreign ownership stake to be raised to 49.99% without having to petition the FCC.

“These same streamlined procedures have worked well in the common carrier context, and I’m confident they’ll work in the broadcast context,” Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said at the agency meeting. 

“They’ll make it easier for broadcasters to access capital, while at the same time ensuring that any foreign ownership above the 25% benchmark… does not compromise our national security or any other public interest.”