The FCC today acted on a reasonable access complaint by Randall Terry against a Washington DC television station, ordering the station to sell commercial time to his campaign as he is on the ballot as a legally qualified candidate for President in the state of West Virginia. The decision was based on the Commission’s finding that a portion of the station’s noise limited service contour ("NLSC") encompassed a county in West Virginia. Prior to the conversion of television stations to digital operations, the FCC’s policy was that a station would have to give reasonable access to a candidate if the station provided more than de minimis Grade B coverage of the district in which the candidate was legally qualified. This decision held, for the first time, that the NLSC was the equivalent of the Grade B contour for reasonable access purposes. It further found that NLSC coverage of 54,000 people, 3% of the state’s population, was not de minimis, and ordered the station to provide reasonable access to purchase advertising time on the station before next week’s election.
We recently wrote about the reasonable access obligations of broadcast stations. We also wrote about Mr. Terry’s attempts to purchase airtime on television stations during the primaries to air graphic anti-abortion ads. Now that Mr. Terry has secured a place on the Presidential ballot in certain states, we may see some of those ads on TV stations in the closing days of this election. Perhaps a scary thought for many on this Halloween night. But, for television stations, this decision also establishes the extent of their obligations for the carriage of ads from candidates who may be running in districts that make up only a small portion of their total coverage area. Stations take note.