307(b) Communications Act

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • A bill was introduced in the US Senate proposing to prohibit any FCC or criminal action against a broadcaster who

Yesterday, we wrote about a case involving an applicant for a new commercial FM station, where the FCC clarified its policies on reasonable assurance of transmitter site availability – holding that an applicant in an auction process can amend to a new site if it is found that its originally specified site is not available for its use.  That policy does not apply to applications for LPFM stations or noncommercial FM stations, which are not settled by an auction but instead through the application of a point system. That point system analysis can be preempted in a proceeding between mutually exclusive applicants for the same noncommercial radio station if one applicant is preferred on 307(b) grounds  (Section 307b of the Communications Act being a section that requires that the Commission make a “fair, efficient and equitable” distribution of broadcast service, which the FCC has interpreted to mean that it must evaluate the coverage area of proposed new stations and determine if any would bring new services to underserved populations so that the new service, in and of itself, is in the public interest and outweighs any point system analysis).  A Court of Appeals decision released last week clarified the application of the 307(b) policy. 

The noncommercial case involved an appeal of a “points system” grant favoring one applicant over another.  The loser complained that it would provide service to a substantially greater population, including a great number of people who did not currently receive two or fewer noncommercial services.  Under the FCC’s policies, an applicant will receive a 307(b) preference that will preempt a points system analysis, but only if it meets certain specific coverage requirements (see our discussion of the FCC’s analysis of which competing applicant for the same noncommercial channel will be preferred here).  In this case, the requirement at the center of the argument was one that says that, to be qualified for a 307(b) preference, the applicant’s proposed new station must propose a coverage area providing service to at least 2,000 people that don’t already receive two noncommercial radio services, and the population in the area currently receiving fewer than two noncommercial services must constitute at least 10% of the people to be served by the applicant.  Here, the applicant appealing its loss covered over 28,000 people who received only one noncommercial service, while the winning applicant would provide a second noncommercial service to fewer than 5,000 people.  But, as the area receiving only one noncommercial service constituted less than 10% of each applicant’s service area (about 9.6% of the loser’s coverage and about 5.5% of the winner’s), no applicant was preferred on the 307(b) criteria, and the winner was preferred on other comparative criteria.
Continue Reading FCC Standards for Comparing Service by Mutually Exclusive Applicants for New Noncommercial Radio Stations Clarified by Court of Appeals

Rural communities – do their radio stations need government protection? The FCC seems to think so, proposing a series of new rules and policies that restrict the ability of the owners of rural radio stations to move their stations into Urban areas. These rules would make it harder for entrepreneurs to do “move in” applications – taking stations from less populated areas and moving them to communities where they can serve larger populations in nearby cities. The Commission states that it is making these proposals to attempt to live up to its obligations under Section 307(b) of the Communications Act to ensure a “fair, efficient and equitable” distribution of radio services to the various states and communities in the country. While this may be a noble goal, one wonders if it is a solution in search of a problem. Are there really rural communities that have an unmet demand for missing radio services – and which can economically support such services? And do these proposals conflict with other goals of the new Commission, by effectively decreasing the opportunities for minorities and other new entrants from acquiring stations in major markets – by taking away move-in stations that are often the only stations that these broadcast station owners can afford in urban markets?  These are questions that the FCC will need to resolve as part of this proceeding. 

A Section 307(b) analysis is done by the FCC when it faces conflicting proposals, specifying different communities of license, for new AM stations or requests for new FM allotments. It is also required when an applicant proposes to move a station from one community to another, as the applicant must demonstrate that the move to the new community would better serve the objectives of Section 307(b) than would the current location of the station. In the past, the 307(b)  analysis looks at several factors, or “Priorities.” These include:

 

  1. Service to white areas – when a proposed station will serve “white area,” an area where residents currently receive no predicted radio service (no “reception service” in FCC parlance). 
  2. Service to gray areas – when a proposed station will serve areas that currently receive only a single reception service
  3. Provision of a first local “transmission” service – where the proposed station will be the first station licensed to a particular community, and thus the first station that has the primary responsibility to serve the needs of that community
  4. Other public interest factors – usually meaning which proposal will provide the service to the most people (with service to “underserved areas,” i.e. those that receive 5 or fewer “reception services,” getting somewhat more weight).


Continue Reading FCC Proposes to Encourage Rural Radio By Making it More Difficult to Move Radio Stations to Urban Areas