Statement of REC Networks: FM/AM Duplication Rule
Three weeks ago, when the Report and Order for MB Docket 19-310 went to circulation draft, we had a good decision. The FCC was going to eliminate the duplication rule for AM radio but keep it for FM radio. The duplication rule prohibits two commonly owned stations in the same service from duplicating more than 25% of programming in generally the same area.
REC supported an elimination of the rule for AM stations due to the unique technical situations that AM broadcasters are in right now. In addition, the elimination of this rule will allow AM licensees to use one of their facilities to provide an all-digital MA3 HD Radio simulcast of their stronger AM station. In other words, a "companion channel".
While the text of the adopted Report and Order had not been released yet, the Press Release suggested that the adopted R&O changed the decision to eliminate for both AM and FM radio. REC opposed the elimination of the duplication rule for FM radio as FM radio does not have the same challenges that AM stations do and does nothing for diversity. Imagine iHeart, Saga or Hubbard running the same programming on two FM channels in a local market. What will that do for diversity?
The FCC has what is called a "sunshine period". The sunshine period starts one week prior to the scheduled Commission meeting. During the sunshine period, no one can make ex parte presentations to FCC staff. In a very political move, just prior to the start of the sunshine period, the National Association of Broadcasters spoke by telephone with the media advisors for Chairman Pai as well as Commissioners O'Rielly and Carr (the majority party). In the record of their conversation, the NAB stated that because of COVID-19, FM stations were facing their own financial issues because of (what REC refers to as "non-radio") and the need for stations to present emergency information. They claim that the record contains "nothing to suggest that the rule combats any public interest harm in today's marketplace." Note that the draft R&O did allow for FM stations to request waivers for specific stations, like COVID-19. REC has no objections to temporary waivers for FM stations..
In her partial dissenting statement, Commissioner Rosenworcel called this "another decision that rushes ahead without doing the due diligence needed to consider the impact on localism, competition, and diversity."
Even though the Report and Order text has not been released yet, REC continues to oppose the elimination of the duplication rule as it pertains to FM. REC will be happy to join as a party to any organized effort in a Petition for Reconsideration.
Also, for organizations that handle LPFM, community radio and diversity issues, it is very imporant that you use the ex parte process after a circulation draft is released. REC has been successful in getting fixes and changes made to decisions in the LPFM Technical and Public Notice proceedings. And as we can see here, NAB hit a home run for their cause in this proceeding.
This decision was very bad for FM radio in general as it does nothing for ownership diversity and variety for the listener.