The FCC has moved forward a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on whether to modify the Commission’s rules governing the operation of FM booster stations by FM broadcasters in certain limited circumstances. The petition was submitted by GeoBroadcast Solutions.
The NPRM is seeking input regarding changes to the booster station rules that could enable FM broadcasters to use FM booster stations to air geo-targeted content such as news, weather and targeted ads. Those broadcasts would be independent of the signals of its primary station within different portions of the primary station’s protected service contour for a limited period of time during the broadcast hour. The Commission’s current rules authorize FM booster stations to retransmit only the signal of their primary station.
GeoBroadcast Solutions commented after the NPRM was posted. ” “We welcome today’s vote by the FCC and thank the Chairman and Commissioners for starting the process that will allow geo-targeting to come to broadcast radio. The prospect of hyper-localizing over-the-air radio content has great potential for the industry in reaching underserved audiences, as well as providing news and alerts on a regional basis, and improving the advertising revenue for the stations. Industry groups, media and advertising companies, broadcasting companies, minority coalitions, and individual stations have all supported and seen the prospects for this technology. We are encouraged and optimistic that the NPRM will continue its course and be enacted in 2021.”
Many small market broadcasters are in favor of the technology. 24 owners filed comments with The FCC in support of the GeoBroadcast proposal back in May. The NAB also supports the plan.
The bigger radio companies say the technology needs to be studied more. iHeart, Entercom, Cumulus and Beasley say this technology could cause listener confusion. “If this technology generates significant listener confusion as they cross transition zones, particularly when driving through alternate programming zones while listening to FM radio in their vehicles, independent parties will need to study whether the end result could be to drive listeners to leave the medium, which could harm all broadcasters seeking to serve listeners via over-the-air FM transmission.
In its NPRM the Commission wrote that the GeoBroadcast proposal presents novel technical and public interest issues that would benefit from additional consideration. “Indeed, provided that the technical operation would not unduly degrade the FM service, the use of FM booster stations to air geo-targeted content could potentially help FM broadcasters, including small and independent broadcast stations owned by women, minorities, and small businesses, to provide important and more locally relevant information and to better compete for advertising revenue in an increasingly dynamic media marketplace.”