The deadline for submitting comments in the Commission’s Localism rule making proceeding is fast approaching. Comments are due by April 28th, and can be filed electronically through the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System. This proceeding contains a number of significant proposals and could possibly re-institute regulations that were lifted from the broadcast industry decades ago. Formal ascertainment through community advisory boards and possibly other means, requirements for manning main studios during all hours of operation of broadcast stations, imposing quantitative programming requirements, and requiring that main studios be maintained within a station’s community of license are just a few of the many proposals the FCC is considering. See our more detailed summary here. This proceeding seeks input on these and other potentially burdensome requirements, many of which were eliminated by the Commission long ago, and some of which go beyond what the FCC has ever required before. Given the potential impact this proceeding could have on broadcast stations, broadcasters are encouraged to file comments in this important rule making proceeding. When submitting comments, commenters should be sure to reference the docket number for this rule making, MB Docket No. 04-233.
Some members of Congress have already chimed in in this proceeding and submitted comments opposing the Commission’s localism proposals. Over 120 members of Congress signed on to a letter addressed to Chairman Martin urging the Commission to avoid imposing additional regulations on broadcasters and to carefully consider the cost and effect that such regulation would have on the industry. A copy of the letter is available here. A summary of the letter posted on Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s web site characterizes the localism proceeding as an attempt to "restore a 1970s era regulatory regime for local broadcasters."
In the 1980s, the FCC looked at the competitive marketplace as justification for deregulation – finding that broadcasters, as a matter of self-preservation, would find their own ways of competing in their local markets, or they would perish. Now, when the marketplace is so much more competitive, the FCC is proposing to bring back archaic regulations potentially requiring all stations in all markets to identical amounts of news, public affairs and local programs. As we wrote recently, this simply does not make sense in a incredibly competitive media marketplace, where each station is looking to serve a unique audience that may or may not have interest in any specific category of programming. Does it really make sense for an all sports station to have to do specific amounts of electoral coverage? Or for their to be local music requirements – but only on those stations that choose to play music?
And, as we wrote just last week, the burden of any paperwork requirement falls most heavily on the small broadcaster. While dealing with mandatory paperwork burdens imposed by community advisory boards, mandatory focus groups, and quantitative programming obligations may be something that can be absorbed by a New York City station with 100 employees, how will it be handled by a station in some small town in Oklahoma that may have only 3 or 4 full-time employees?
The real, practical effects of these rules simply have not been evaluated by the FCC. While the rules may sound good in theory to those isolated inside the Beltway, how they will function in practice needs to be made clear to the Commission. So file your comments by April 28th to be heard on the direction that the FCC will take for the future of broadcast regulation.