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FCC considering repeal of main studio rule

 - No local studio, staff, or phone line?

As FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced at the NAB Show in April, the commission is seeking to eliminate the main studio rules for local Radio and TV broadcasters, arguing that doing so is in the public interest. The industry, members of the public and other interested parties can soon weigh in on the idea now that the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has been issued.

The NPRM was approved unanimously, but Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the sole Democrat on the commission, issued a separate statement indicating she has serious concerns about “outright elimination of the rule” and said she found it “perplexing” that “broadcasters are advocating to absolve themselves from maintaining local roots in their community of license.”

Clyburn said the rulemaking proposal, after the addition of questions she requested, nonetheless “tees up the appropriate questions needed to build a fulsome record.”

Comments on the proposal are due July 3, with reply comments due July 17.

In addition to the questions initially proposed by the FCC, listed below, the final NPRM also asks whether to retain the existing requirement that stations maintain local telephone numbers that local residents can call to address issues about station operations or to respond to community needs and emergencies.

Whether a licensee would need to answer phone calls, either during only business hours or all hours of operation, also is in play. Even if a phone line doesn’t have to be answered by a human operator, the FCC is asking whether to require that calls be answered within a certain time frame, primarily so emergencies don’t go unreported.

Other key questions the commission poses in its NPRM:

  • whether abolishing the main studio rules in any way nullifies the station’s obligation to serve its local community that would undermine the FCC’s obligations under Section 307(b) of the Communications Act to allocate stations to communities that need service,
  • how much money eliminating the main studio rule would save stations,
  • the public interest benefits that would result from any monetary savings (e.g. improved programming),
  • information about how often the main studio is currently visited by community members and why they visit,
  • information about how community members communicate with broadcasters with complaints or suggestions about broadcast operations,
  • whether stations can still serve the issues faced by their communities without having a physical presence,
  • how eliminating the rule would comport with the requirement that radio stations move their public file online (e.g. should an online public file be a precondition of shuttering the studio or can the paper file be maintained somewhere else if the studio rule is repealed before next March when the online public file becomes mandatory for all stations),
  • whether to continue to require that stations have a local phone number accessible to residents of their community of license, and
  • how Class A TV stations would meet their obligations to air local programs if they have no main studio.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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