U.S. FCC may ease limit on foreign ownership of broadcasters

Thursday, Apr 16, 2015

The Federal Communications Commission is exploring whether to ease limits on foreign ownership of broadcasters, a change that could boost investment in U.S. TV and radio stations, the agency’s chairman said.

Relaxing rules that now limit foreign ownership of broadcasters to 25 percent or less is “a goal worth pursuing,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said Wednesday in a speech at the National Association of Broadcasters’ conference in Las Vegas.

The FCC will need to consider “important details” including national security issues, Wheeler said, adding that he was “optimistic that this is an opportunity that we will grasp successfully.”

The FCC in 2013 said it would consider allowing non-U.S. citizens to hold more than a 25 percent stake in a broadcaster on a case-by-case basis. That needs to be widened to “affirmatively permit foreign ownership above the 25 percent cap once and for all,” Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said in a blog post last month.

Wheeler said benefits for investors may be on both sides of the U.S. border. In addition to encouraging foreign investment in U.S. TV and radio stations, American companies may get “potential reciprocal treatment” in other countries if they also drop curbs on foreign owners.

Companies including Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal, CBS Corp., Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., and the Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC, backed the FCC’s 2013 loosening.

The foreign-ownership issue has “entangled” Pandora Media Inc.’s application for a radio station license in South Dakota, O’Rielly said in his blog post. The company has not been able to demonstrate the nationality of its shareholders, he said.

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