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Radio, TV issues loom large at FCC

 - Contest rules, retrans, AM revitalization

While the nascent incentive spectrum auction has garnered most FCC-related headlines of late, the commission is slated to take up a slew of other potential rule changes in the next six weeks that have far reaching implications for radio and TV stations alike.

Many of the moves stem from Congress’ extension last December of STELAR, the satellite television act, and despite their origins are viewed by many as serving Chairman Wheeler’s goal of disrupting the broadcast business sufficiently to prod more station owners to consider selling out in the auction.

Chief among these potential changes is a proposal by the chairman to repeal the commission’s network non-duplication and syndicated exclusivity rules as he initially recommended in March. If adopted at the FCC’s Sept. 17 meeting, broadcasters would have to go to court to enforce their privately negotiated contracts. TAB is coordinating efforts for Texas broadcasters to weigh in with commissioners regarding the importance of retaining the existing rules.

Another STELAR driven proposal, a directive to the FCC to examine its “totality of the circumstances” test as part of its good faith rules in the retransmission consent context, goes far beyond Congress’ request and takes a wholesale look at the commission’s good faith rules to determine whether the FCC should provide more direction to participants in retransmission consent negotiations.

While the rulemaking asks many open-ended questions addressing the Pay-TV industry’s concerns, it specifically proposes ending the practice of so-called “online blocking” wherein a broadcaster in a retransmission consent dispute whose signal has been dropped by an MVPD restricts access to its broadcast content over the Internet to the MVPD’s customers who also are broadband subscribers.

The FCC also is considering an order in response to a STELAR provision that the FCC establish a process for modifying television stations’ markets for purposes of satellite carriage. Congress intended for this process to be similar to the cable market modification process in which cable operators or broadcasters petition to add or delete communities to or from a station’s market.

NAB reports that the order being circulated among commissioners implements a similar process, but also will permit municipalities to file petitions. When a modification petition is granted, broadcast stations will retain the right to elect must-carry or retransmission consent with regard to any new communities added to their markets.

Of interest to radio and TV stations alike, the FCC is considering an order that would update the FCC’s station-conducted contest rule to allow broadcasters to post required contest rules and terms and conditions online, instead of having to broadcast them over the air. TV stations would no longer need to broadcast the required contest disclosures so long as stations announce the specific online location where the rules can be found.

Posting the rules online would not be mandatory. Rather, stations would have the option to replace rapid-fire announcements or brief pictures of the written rules by directing viewers online for more information.

Lastly, commissioners are considering a proposal by the chairman to have an as-yet undetermined window for AM radio stations to acquire existing FM translators within 250 miles, move them one time and permit frequency changes. This move rejects a proposal by then-Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn for an exclusive window for AM stations to have access to FM translators that was part of her much-heralded AM revitalization effort, though it includes many of the technical ideas that were part of Clyburn’s proposal.

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

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