The FCC’s decision in its rural radio proceeding addresses numerous radio issues – some of which seem to provide a solution in search of a problem. In an era where the President has called for agencies to review their decisions to access how they will affect businesses and job creation, some aspects of this rural radio decision appear to be moving in the opposite direction – imposing new hurdles on broadcasters trying to improve their operational facilities. While the FCC in this decision adopted largely uncontested rules that would promote the development of new radio stations on Tribal lands, the Commission also adopted rules making it harder for radio stations to move from more rural areas into more urban ones – rule that were almost universally condemned by broadcasters. The decision also restricted the ability of FM translators to “hop” from the commercial to the noncommercial band and vice versa, and adopted rules that codified the determination of how AM applications are determined to be “mutually exclusive” when filed in the same window for new or major change applications. The changes to the procedures for consideration of AM and FM station allotment and movement are summarized below. The other changes made in this proceeding will be discussed in a subsequent post on this blog.
Easily the most controversial of the decisions made by the Commission in this proceeding was the conclusions reached as to the movement of AM and FM radio stations from more rural areas into more urbanized ones. We wrote about some of the concerns raised by broadcasters last week. Many of the new rules and policies adopted by the Commission were ones feared by broadcasters – though many of the policies are still undefined, and how they are enforced may well determine their ultimate impact. That impact may well take years to sort out. Regardless of the ultimate impact on the actual movement of stations, there is no question that these rules will require far more paperwork from broadcasters seeking to allot new channels and from those seeking to change the cities of license of existing stations, and open more moves to challenge, making the process slower and more expensive.