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FCC Not Expected to Vote 2018 Quadrennial by Court Deadline

FCC and industry officials don’t expect a 2018 Quadrennial Review vote by the Dec. 27 deadline ordered by the D.C. Circuit (see 2309290056) and the item isn’t expected to be part of the December meeting agenda, they said in interviews this week.

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It's expected the order will be circulated to the 10th floor by the deadline, which some FCC officials believe will be sufficient to satisfy the court. Industry and FCC officials also told us they expect a 2022 QR NPRM to be circulated on the heels of the 2018 QR, possibly in January.

FCC officials gave us conflicting reasons for the expected delay in voting the item, which is being worked on at the agency but hadn’t yet been sent around to 10th floor offices. FCC officials told us that the Republican commissioners' offices are expected to take the maximum 21 days allowed under the agency’s internal procedures to review the item.

With FCC officials expecting the delay to lead to the item not being voted on by the Dec. 27 deadline, it appears they don’t expect the item to be circulated until at least a week or so into December. A Republican FCC official told us that they will need the extended time to review a likely complicated and contentious item during the holidays. The FCC didn’t immediately comment.

Under the FCC’s internal procedures, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel can force a vote on an item by putting it on a monthly open meeting agenda, but FCC officials don’t expect that to happen with the 2018 QR. Commissioners will hold an open meeting Dec. 13. Since 2017, the FCC has publicly released the draft version of orders circulated to the 10th floor as part of an open meeting agenda ahead of the vote but doesn’t release draft text for orders voted directly from circulation. The text of non-meeting item orders isn’t public until after they are voted.

Though it has been widely expected that the 2018 QR wouldn’t contain substantive changes to ownership rules, it's now seen to include some rule changes. It’s not yet clear what those might be, but Rosenworcel previously has indicated an openness to loosening local ownership limits on AM stations, and the agency’s enforcement action against Gray Television (see 2309140058) indicates the FCC’s interest in limitations on top-four ownership.

In a meeting Monday with aides to Commissioner Anna Gomez, NAB focused on radio ownership caps and top-four attribution, according to an ex parte filing posted Tuesday in docket 18-349, calling for ownership subcaps to be relaxed for both AM and FM. The FCC can’t retain “broadcast-only ownership restrictions that pre-date internet ubiquity, the proliferation of digital devices, and widespread adoption of audio and video streaming services, as well as the growth of social media and Big Tech,” NAB said. Eliminating radio subcaps for only AM stations won’t be enough to spur investment in radio, said Beasley Media CEO Caroline Beasley in July (see 2307270052).

The D.C. Circuit’s Sept. 28 order gave the agency 90 days to complete the QR or show cause why NAB’s petition for mandamus shouldn’t be granted. NAB had asked the court to compel the FCC to act on the 2018 QR, and the FCC argued then -- before Commissioner Anna Gomez's confirmation as commissioner -- that the lack of an FCC majority was a factor in the agency's delay.