Last Friday, the rules on over-the-air digital radio for AM and FM stations – the IBOC system or, as it is commonly known, HD Radio – became effective.  The most immediate effect of the new rules, which we summarized here, is the ability of AM stations to operate using the IBOC system at night.  The Commission determined that such operation offered more benefits than any interference it might create.  The final rules also allowed stations to begin digital operations – and multicast operations – on a permanent basis without prior FCC approval.  As these rules take effect, some stations are beginning to look to the multicast channels to provide new programming opportunities.

NPR has, in many ways, led the efforts to utilize digital radio for multicast operations.  In today’s Washington Post, there is an article about the city’s NPR affiliate, WAMU, which has recently announced plans to take its multicast operations to a new level.  WAMU had in the past programmed a substantial amount of bluegrass music, a local DC favorite.  Over time, that programming had been reduced as the station broadcast more and more talk programming.  The station had moved bluegrass to a full time Internet radio stream, and has now announced plans to move all of the remaining bluegrass and roots music programming (which had been limited to Sundays) to one of its IBOC digital multicast streams – and to include live announcers during at least some of this digital programming.  The Post article quotes the station manager as saying that the local Best Buy now knows that HD Radio is different from the service that XM or Sirius provide.


Continue Reading IBOC Digital Radio Rules Become Effective – Some Stations Lead the Way on Multicasting

In our recent summary of the Commission’s order on Digital Radio, we wrote about the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that raised specific proposals to adopt new rules regulating the public interest obligations of radio broadcasters.  These proposals included the possible requirements for a standardized disclosure form for a stations public service programs, limits on a station’s ability to originate programming from locations other than the station’s main studio, and possible limitations on the current ability of stations to operate without manned studios.  A recent Commission decision reminds television broadcasters that there is another proceeding – one six years old – that proposes many of the same restrictions on television broadcasters.  Does the recent mention of this proceeding that so closely parallels the recent radio proposals indicate that some action may soon be forthcoming on the TV proceeding?

The TV proceeding was mentioned in an FCC decision released last week rejecting Petitions to Deny that had been filed against a number of license renewal applications for television stations in Wisconsin and Illinois alleging that the stations had not adequately served the public interest through the broadcast of issue responsive programming, especially programming covering election issues.  In rejecting those Petitions, the FCC stated that its ability to second guess the editorial discretion of a licensee was limited by the First Amendment and by the Communications Act’s prohibition against broadcast censorship.  In this case, the FCC said that the showing made by the Petitioner was not sufficient to demonstrate that the stations had not served the public interest of their communities.  However, the decision noted that the Commission was considering quantitative standards for evaluating the public service of broadcast licensees, citing to the long-pending rulemaking proceeding, and implying that the evaluation of these licensees might have been at least somewhat different had these proposed standards been in place.


Continue Reading Enhanced Public Interest Requirements for TV Too?

Yesterday’s New York Times featured an article on its Opinion/Editorial page written by FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, suggesting that enforcement of the public interest obligations of broadcaster become more stringent. Commissioner Copps suggested that broadcasters needed to have their responsiveness to the needs of their community scrutinized more closely, and more often. Among other actions, the Commissioner suggested that license renewal period for broadcasters be shortened from the current eight year term, to once every three years – as well as a host of more stringent and specific programming obligations. Coming on the heels of the FCC’s proposal in the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Digital Radio (see our summary, here) to explore the local service of broadcasters through a checklist public file report quantifying their public interest service, as well as mandating more local program origination and a greater local presence for stations, local service seems to have emerged as a major issue of concern that may be played out in FCC proceedings in this year leading up to the 2008 Presidential election.

The Copps proposal to shorten license renewal terms back to the three years, and to stiffen the renewal process, asks that the FCC return to a system that required broadcasters to spend significant sums of money on administrative matters that could have better gone to broadcast operations. And the sums that used to be spent on license renewal applications had minimal real impact on the public interest.   While from time to time, broadcasters did run into scrutiny at renewal time, the vast majority of broadcasters’ applications were reviewed in a perfunctory manner and renewed – just as they are today. And with the Commission’s depleted resources that are already stretched thin, it seems unlikely that its staff would be able to provide much greater scrutiny to renewal applications that are filed more than twice as often as they are currently – more than doubling the workload of the already overburdened Commission staff.


Continue Reading You Can Force A Broadcaster to Program, But You Can’t Make People Watch: Proposals for More License Renewal Obligations

This article is no longer available. For more information on this topic, see FCC Deadlines in January – Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, Children’s Program Reports, Comments on TV Online Public File and Public Interest Obligation Proposals, FM Window and More

In recent years, patent issues have arisen in many areas affecting online media.  In a recent decision, the Supreme Court decided that lower Courts have more discretion to review whether a patent should be rejected for "obviousness."  To be valid, a patent must cover some degree of innovation, and should not be simply an

Last week, House Commerce and Energy Committee Chairman John Dingell reportedly stated that he favored the return of the Fairness Doctrine, and couldn’t see why broadcasters would be opposed.  We’ve suggested reasons, here and here.  But the reports are that Congressman Dingell may try to move legislation to accomplish the return of the Doctrine later this year.

The front page of the Sunday New York Times featured a story titled "Shock Radio Shrugs at Imus’s Fall And Roughs Up the Usual Victims."  The story reports on radio station talk programming and how the Times’ reporters found numerous instances of what they refer to as "coarse, sexually explicit banter" and "meanness."  The Times reports that these programs could lead the announcers and the stations owners into dangerous territory – either from FCC fines or through advertiser cancellations.  The Times also correctly indicates that the FCC usually does not initiate actions against such programs based on its own monitoring, but instead based on listener complaints – almost an open invitation for such complaints to be filed based on the paper’s report.  With reports such as this hitting the popular press, after being brought to the forefront of public attention by the Imus affair, and earlier this year by the Sacramento contest gone wrong for the the Wii (here), can calls for regulation be far behind?

The Times own report asks the question as to whether the FCC or Congress will step up regulation in light of the Imus affair.  Interestingly, it avoids the questions raised by its own reports as to where lines would be drawn in any regulations.  For instance, in the story, the Times identified some programming that might cause concern under FCC indecency guidelines depending on the context in which the cited material was used, the report also cites several instances which assuredly do not fit within any FCC prohibitions.  In fact, some of the samples cited by the article do not seem much more "coarse" than what you might find on some Sunday morning or cable television news-talk programming.  For instance, the Times cites, seemingly as an example of "crude remarks," statements made on the Mancow syndicated radio talk programming, where Mancow allegedly asserted that radical Muslims "would not stop until they had flattened American religion like a steamroller" and then went on to say that he didn’t want his children to be killed or "brainwashed" into Islamic beliefs.  While I’m sure that the Mancow language was not the same as that which might be used on a political talk program – aren’t similar expressions about the goals of radical Islam often aired on such news talk programs – often by members of the political establishment?  Would the Times want to regulate the discussion of ideas based on how or where they were expressed?  In any content regulation, lines are hard to draw.


Continue Reading Radio Shock Jocks in the News – Calls for Regulation to Follow?

In a letter to FCC Chairman Martin and Commissioners Copps and Tate, Congressman Edward Markey, head of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, has asked that the FCC take strong steps to restrict the advertising of unhealthy food in children’s television programs.  While applauding voluntary efforts promised by some broadcasters to include in their children’s programing more Public Service Announcements (PSAs) for healthy eating, Congressman Markey urged the FCC to do more by cutting in half to 6 minutes per hour the amount of permissible advertising in children’s programming , and by finding that a station had not met its obligations to broadcast educational and informational programming directed to children if the station aired ads for unhealthy foods during a program which would otherwise qualify as a toward meeting the station’s obligations.

The letter from Congressman Markey, while citing efforts in other countries to enforce similar regulations, does not address basic issues with each of his proposals.  First, if sponsorship of children’s programming is cut in half, won’t that also cut the incentive of broadcasters to air such programs?  Cutting sponsorship to the bone would seem to guarantee that broadcasters will do the absolute minimum amount of children’s programming required, so that they can air programs where there are no advertising restrictions.

These requirements would also seem to make broadcasters into the food police.  Broadcasters will have to educate themselves as to the nutritional qualities of various food products to make sure that nothing impermissible gets on the air.  And where will lines be drawn?  Could a station safely advertise a fast food store if the ads featured only the salads sold by the store – even where that store might also sell not so healthy alternatives?  If definitions are drawn by numerical limits on contents such as sugar, salt and fat (as suggested by the letter), will these limits necessarily lead to advertising the most healthy foods?  Will broadcasters be forced to substitute for parents in making decisions about what their children will eat?


Continue Reading Congress Urges New Children’s Television Regulation