At its December meeting, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Localism. At that meeting, while the Commissioners discussed the generalities of the proposals being made, the specifics of the proposals were unknown. The full text of the NPRM has now been released, and it sets out the areas in which the Commission proposes to re-regulate broadcast stations. The order also hints at a number of other proceedings that the Commission intends to launch in the near future, and reminds broadcasters of a number of other existing proceedings that will potentially bring about greater regulation. From the discussion in the NPRM, new rules will apply to all broadcasters – large and small – and potentially place significant burdens on all stations which, as always, are hardest for small stations to deal with. Given the number of new regulatory initiatives discussed by the Commission, the NPRM is a must-read for all broadcasters, and this proceeding is one in which all broadcasters should participate.
Among the specific proposals on which the Commission asks for comments include the following:
Community Advisory Boards: The Commission tentatively concludes that all stations will be required to establish a community advisory board to advise the station on the issues of importance to the community that can be addressed in the station’s programming. The Commission indicated that it did not want to bring back the burden of the ascertainment process that was abolished in the 1980s, but asks how the Board should be established so as to represent the entire community, suggesting that the categories of community leaders that were used in the ascertainment process could be used as a standard to guide the licensee in determining the make-up of the board. Other questions include how often the board should meet, and how the board members should be selected (or elected – though by whom, the Commission does not suggest).
Other Community Outreach Efforts. The Commission also suggests that other community outreach efforts should be considered as possible mandates for broadcasters. These would include the following:
- Listener surveys by telephone or other electronic means (general public surveys were also part of the ascertainment process abolished in the 1980s, so if this were adopted together with the Community Advisory Board, ascertainment would effectively be back)
- Focus sessions or town hall meetings
- Participation of management personnel on community boards, committees, councils and commissions (mandatory civic participation?)
- Specific phone numbers or email addresses, publicized during programming, for the public to register their comments on station operations.
Remote Station Operations. Comments are sought as to whether television stations should be forbidden to operate without being manned during all hours of operation. Radio operations will be addressed in the proceeding to consider the public interest issues posed in the Digital Radio Proceeding (see our summary here).
Quantitative Programming Guidelines. The Commission proposes to adopt quantitative standards for programming that a station would have to meet to avoid extra processing and scrutiny at license renewal time. Questions include what categories of standards should be established (just local programs – or more specific requirements to set required amounts of news, public affairs and other categories – and how to define what programming would qualify in each category), should requirements be established as specific numbers of minutes or hours per day or per week or by a percentage of programming or through some other metric, should other specific requirements or measurements be established?
Main Studios. The commission suggests reverting to the pre-1987 requirement that each station maintain a main studio in its community of license
Network Programming Review. The Commission asks whether rules should be adopted to require that local network affiliates have some ability to review all network programming before it is aired. If so, what programs would be exempt from the requirement (e.g. live programs), how much prior review is necessary, would such a right disrupt network operations?
Voice Tracking. The Commission asks if "voice-tracking," (i.e. a radio announcer who provides announcing on a radio station from outside a local market, sometimes including local inserts to make it sound as if the announcer is local) should be limited or prohibited, or if disclosure should be required.
Local Music. While the Commission indicates that it did not think that a ban on national playlists was required, it did ask whether broadcasters should be required to report the songs that they play, and how they choose their music. With that information, the Commission asks if it should consider the amount of local music played when assessing whether a station has served the needs of its community at license renewal time.
Class A TV. The Commission asks whether it should adopt rules that permit more LPTV stations to achieve Class A status, meaning that they would no longer be secondary stations subject to being forced off the air by interfering uses of the TV spectrum by full-power TV stations.