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FCC Greenlights Qwest Station Buys

The FCC officially has cleared the way for Qwest Broadcasting to buy WATL-TV Atlanta from Fox for $150 million, and WNOL-TV New Orleans for $17 million.

Qwest, the Quincy Jones-backed company that has heavy financial backing from Tribune Broadcasting, had the station approval delayed for months as the Federal Communications Commission debated the degree to which Tribune will exert control over the stations.

Approval of the deal was made conditional on the outcome of the FCC’s consideration of changes in its attribution rules, the regs that determine how much a minority partner may invest in a TV station before that partner is deemed to be an owner.

The issue is important to Tribune, which already owns TV stations in Atlanta and New Orleans, and could be deemed in violation of the FCC’s duopoly rules if it were found the company owned an attributable interest in WATL and WNOL.

Though she voted to approve the Qwest transaction, FCC commissioner Susan Ness said the deal is another in a series that “pushes the limits of our rules. The FCC has an obligation to establish clear rules that provide an even playing field for broadcasters. We do not have that today, but I look forward to finalizing such rules in the near future.”

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