In a proposal filed by many of the nation’s largest radio broadcasters, a request was made that the FCC allow FM stations operating with the HD Radio (or "IBOC system" – for "In Band On Channel" as the digital signal is transmitted on the same channel as the current analog signal) to increase power
The FCC today issued an order extending the comment deadline in its Broadcast Diversity proceeding, extending the comment date a full month until July 30, with Reply Comments now due on August 29. This important proceeding, about which we wrote here, will address many issues, including proposals to, among other things, repurpose television…
UPDATE 5-29-2008- Please note, the Commission has revised the dates for submitting comments in this rule making proceeding. Comments in the proceeding are now due on or before June 30, 2008, and Reply Comments are due on or before July 14, 2008. This means that interested parties have a couple of weeks less than…
We recently wrote about the Federal Communications Commission’s actions in their Diversity docket, designed to promote new entrants into the ranks of broadcast station owners. In addition to the rules adopted in the proceeding, the FCC is seeking comment on a number of other ideas – some to restrict the definition of the Designated Entities that are eligible to take advantage of these rules, others to expand the universe of media outlets available to potential broadcast owners – including proposals to expand the FM band onto TV channels 5 and 6, and proposals to allow certain AM stations, which were to be returned to the FCC after their owners received construction permits for expanded band stations, to retain those stations or transfer them to Designated Entities. The proposals, on which public comment is being sought, are summarized below.
Definition of Designated Entity. The first issue raised by the Commission deals with whether the class of applicants entitled to Designated Entity status and entitled to take advantage of the Commission’s diversity initiatives should be restricted. One proposal is to restrict the Designated Entity status to companies controlled by racial minorities. The Commission expressed skepticism about that proposal, noting that the courts had throw out several versions of the FCC’s EEO rules, finding that there was insufficient justification offered by the FCC to constitutionally justify raced-based preferences. The Commission asked that proponents of such preferences provide a “compelling” showing of needed, as necessary for a constitutional justification for governmental race-based discrimination.
Continue Reading FCC’s Acts to Increase Diversity in Media Ownership – Part 2, The Proposals for Future Actions – Channel 6 for FM, AM Expanded Band, Definition of Designated Entity, Must Carry for Class A TV and Others
Channel 6 of the television band is immediately adjacent to the lower end of the FM band. Noncommercial FM radio stations, located at the lower end of the FM band (88.1 FM to 91.9), have the potential to interfere with television stations on that channel. Thus, FCC rules require that noncommercial FM stations protect…
In the last few days before the Super Tuesday series of presidential primaries, efforts are being made across the political spectrum to convince voters to vote for or against the remaining candidates. With Obama buying Super Bowl ads in many markets, Clinton planning a one-hour program on the Hallmark Channel the night before the primaries, Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio host attacking McCain, and third-party interest groups and unions running ads supporting or attacking various candidates, a casual observer, looking at this media blitz, may wonder how all these efforts work under the rules and laws governing the FCC and political broadcasting.
For instance, sitting here watching the Super Bowl, I just watched a half-time ad for Barack Obama. Did the Obama campaign spring for one of those million dollar Super Bowl ads that we all read about? Probably not. It appears, according to press reports, that instead of buying a national ad in the Fox network coverage, the campaign purchased local ads in certain media markets. And with reasonable access requirements under the Communications Act and FCC rules, he could insist that his commercial get access to the program as all Federal candidates have a right of reasoanble access to all classes and dayparts of station programming. Moreover, the spot would have to be sold at lowest unit rates. While those rates are not the rates that an advertiser would pay for a spot on a typical early Sunday evening on a Fox program, they still would be as low as any other advertiser would pay for a similar ad aired during the game. In this case, by buying on local stations, at lowest unit rates, his campaign apparently made the calculation that it could afford the cost, and that the exposure made it not a bad deal.
Last week, the FCC approved the long-pending application for the transfer of control of Clear Channel Broadcasting from its public shareholder to several private equity funds. Even though the application had been pending at the FCC for over a year, the Commission’s decision was notable for the paucity of issues that were discussed. The decision approves the transfer, conditioned on certain divestitures by the Company and by the equity funds that will control the new company, including divestitures previously ordered by the Commission in connection with the investment of one of these funds in Univision Broadcasting but not yet completed, and rejects three petitions that, from the Commission’s description, did not involve fundamental issues about the nature of the overall transaction, but were instead devoted to certain limited issues, in two cases involving actions in a single market. The divestiture conditions were approved seemingly as a matter of course, and do not provide any new insights into the law concerning the FCC’s attribution rules (unlike the recent decision approving the transfer of control of Ion Television, about which we wrote here, which contained an extensive detailed discussion of what it takes to make an ownership interest “nonattributable” for purposes of the FCC multiple ownership rules). Given the lack of controversy in the Commission’s order, what is perhaps most noteworthy about the decision are the concurring statements of the two Democratic Commissioners, which may provide some indication of the concerns of the Commission should we have a Democratic-controlled Commission following this year’s Presidential election.
Of course, as we’ve described in our posts about the FCC’s Localism Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (here), and the new rules regarding Enhanced Disclosure requirements for television broadcasters (here), the Commission has already begun to act in a far more regulatory manner than any other Commission in the past 20 years. Yet the issues raised by the Democrats in this decision are in areas not yet considered by the Commission. Commissioner Copps expresses his concern about the role of private equity in broadcast ownership, and whether such ownership is in the public interest. In numerous proceedings and in response to the presentation made at the FCC’s January meeting by the Media Bureau, Copps has suggested that private equity should be investigated, both to determine whether the Commission is fully aware of all ownership ties of the companies involved, and also (as emphasized in this case) for the potential economic impact on the operations of the broadcast stations caused by the new debt involved in the acquisition. Here, Commissioner Copps questions whether the announcement of a potential downgrade of the bonds of the Company if these deals occur should have been of more concern to the Commission. Private equity should be aware that, in a future FCC, an investigation of the economics of their operations should be expected.
At last Tuesday’s FCC meeting, the Commission adopted a controversial order, over the objection of two Commissioners, that could limit the processing of some applications for improvements by some full power FM stations, and would restrict translator applications, all in the name of encouraging Low Power FM (LPFM) stations to provide outlets for expression by groups that cannot get access to full-power radio stations (see our summary of that action here). In recent weeks, two ideas have received some publicity providing an alternative outlet for these prospective local broadcasters – and both provide a simple solution (one more immediate and ad hoc than that other), but both leading to the same result – why not just extend the FM band by using TV channel 6?
The current FM band begins at 88.1 MHz, a channel that is actually immediately adjacent to TV Channel 6. The FCC has for years restricted operations of noncommercial FM stations (which operate from 88.1 to 91.9 on the FM dial) in areas where there are Channel 6 TV stations in order to prevent the radio stations from creating interference to the reception of the TV stations. That’s while you will often find fewer noncommercial stations, or ones with weaker coverage, in communities that have TV Channel 6 licensees. TV stations use an FM transmission system for their audio. Thus, you will also find that most FM receivers (especially ones without digital tuners) will pick up the audio from TV channel 6 if tuned all the way to the left of the dial. The short-term solution to expanding the FM band came from one broadcaster who noted that fact.
In the last week, several new LPFM issues have arisen – one a Congressional push to authorize more of these stations by ignoring third adjacent channel interference to full power stations, and another involving complaints to the FCC about LPFM stations being forced to change channels or cease operation because of interference from changes made by full power stations. The latter issue has apparently arisen in the context of stations taking advantage of the FCC’s rules which made it easier to effectuate changes in the cities of license of FM stations (see our summary of the rule changes here), causing more movement of such stations. Both of these issues could present issues for FM broadcasters.
The Congressional action was initiated by the introduction of legislation in both the House and the Senate that would eliminate third adjacent channel protections that full power stations have from LPFMs. Those protections have been the subject of controversy since the FCC authorized the LPFM service. LPFM advocates have contended that the interference protections are unnecessary, as most FM receivers should be able to distinguish between stations on third adjacent channels. The NAB contends that the protections are needed as there are still many radios that would be affected by that interference. Full power stations, except for those authorized at short-spacings prior to 1964, are protected from third adjacent channel interference from each other. Competing engineering studies have been done, the FCC has not acted on this question (and in fact Congress had prohibited such action years ago). But now, some feel that the time for some liberalization of the rules is in order.