New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has already proven to be a breath of fresh air for broadcasters, pushing hard to retire outdated regulations and bend an ear to the concerns of our industry.
One simple change with far-reaching impact is that Pai now makes public the text of proposals and orders that the FCC will consider some three weeks in advance of Commission meetings. This reverses a longtime practice of keeping those items under cloak. Pai’s FCC, which has two openings before it is fully staffed with Commissioners from both parties, has moved swiftly over the last four months.
In his words, the FCC has “modernized our interpretation of our equal employment opportunity rules to account for the way that people actually look for jobs today.” Those changes affect our member stations and are covered in a post from the IBA’s Washington counsel Dave Oxenford in today’s Monday Memo.
In Television, the Pai FCC has pledged to move quickly to consider broadcast industry requests that next-generation ATSC 3.0 broadcasts be made voluntary and permissible over the public airwaves. The IP-based next-gen standard will revolutionize the way TV broadcasters communicate, since it can merge broadcast with broadband – or “over-the-air” with “over-the-top” services.
Now that the Spectrum Auction is completed, attention turns to the repack of TV station channels throughout the country. While the number of Indiana broadcasters who chose to sell their spectrum was relatively small, we remain concerned about the repack of stations, the available resources to do that, and the extremely compressed 39-month timeline – since some FM stations could be affected by TV tower and channel moves, if they share the same tower with a TV broadcaster who must relocate to a different channel.
At the NAB Show, Pai said the FCC is also pushing ahead with AM Revitalization, giving AM broadcasters greater flexibility in locating their FM fill-in translators.
“Now that the Incentive Auction has been completed, I’m pleased to report that we should be able to open the first application window, which will be for Class C and D stations, this summer,” the Chairman explained.
“I remain fundamentally optimistic about the future of broadcasting. For starters, there is abundant evidence that broadcasters are continuing to thrive in the Internet age. The overwhelming majority of the most watched shows are still on broadcast TV. And each week, 93% of Americans over the age of 12 listen to the radio, which is about the same as a decade ago, and the decade before that, and the decade before that. But the biggest reason I’m bullish about this medium is that broadcasting’s strengths—its values—are timeless. I’m talking about localism, diversity, and public service,” Pai told a large crowd at the NAB Show.
At the FCC’s next public meeting, the Chairman has teed up a vote on a proposal to start a comprehensive review of the FCC’s media regulations affecting broadcasters, cable, and satellite companies.
I would expect changes to the Main Studio Rule that currently requires each AM, FM, and television broadcast station to maintain a main studio that is located in or near its community of license.
“In 2017, we can give broadcasters additional flexibility by repealing the main studio rule without sacrificing transparency or community engagement. After all, TV broadcasters have already transitioned to an online public file, and radio broadcasters will do so by early 2018. And in reality, an online public file is much more accessible to the American people than one sitting in a main studio,” the Chairman said in Las Vegas.
More changes are likely coming in ownership restrictions.
Pai says another big priority is fixing an annoyance – robocalls. His own mother-in-law has made it clear to her son that robocall infiltration needs to be stopped.