20-401: ZoneCasting will increase interference, raise LCRA issues and promotes discriminatory practices

REC Networks has filed Reply Comments in the FCC's "ZoneCasting" proceeding, joining with the National Association of Broadcasters and major broadcast owners in opposing the concept of allowing FM Booster stations to be able to originate up to 3 minutes of local programming, mostly for the use of airing commercials that are targeted to specific "zones" within the service contour of the primary FM station. The FCC created the FM Booster service in 1970 in order to "provide FM radio service to areas and populations which are unable to receive satisfactory service by reason of distance or intervening terrain obstructions".  In their Petition for RulemakingGeoBroadcast Systems, the proponent of the ZoneCasting concept seeks to redefine the role of the FM Booster service to also include placing facilities in areas that are already well-served by the primary station, including an example of how nearly three dozen boosters can be placed to create a "zone" in Upper Manhattan for a major New York FM station that has their main transmitter.

REC found compelling, the arguments raised by NAB and others that not only would a "booster boom", especially in areas that are already very well served by the primary station will create a new swath of self-interference, but that the overall ZoneCasting concept will create a new form of advertising discrimination, which permits broadcasters to favor more desired "gold coast" areas as opposed to their entire service area. In addition, with the boosters giving priority to these gold coast areas, the areas of self-interference are likely to fall into more socioeconomically depressed areas.  In 2007, the FCC addressed discrimination in the radio advertising industry, including the "no urban/no Spanish" specifications made by agencies when purchasing advertising in a particular market.  

REC also upheld its previous remarks that due to the fact that this is the first major proceeding involving FM Boosters since the 1980s, the FCC must look at the major changes that have taken place within the broadcast band through the massive growth of FM Translators and Low Power FM stations and the enactment of the Local Community Radio Act of 2010, the FCC is required by statute to evalute the status of FM Boosters to those other secondary services as well as assuring that the FCC is complying with the LCRA by assuring that licenses for new FM Booster stations are only distributed based on local community need. 

REC reinforced their comments in stating that for new and modified FM Booster facilities:

  • That the FM Booster radio service must continue to remain secondary and equal in status to FM Translator and LPFM stations. 
  • Applications for new and modified FM Booster stations should only be granted if a technical showing can demonstrate that within the 60 dBu contour of the proposed FM Booster facility, it can be determined using terrain-based (Longley/Rice) propagation prediction methods, that at least 40 percent of the underlying population is not able to receive a usable 54 dB field strength signal from the primary station.  This would be a mandate to address the "local community need" provision of the LCRA when assigning new licenses for secondary services like FM Boosters, LPFM and FM Translator stations.
  • Applications for new and modified FM Booster stations must provide protections to all other secondary facilities such as FM Translators and LPFM stations by prohibiting applictions that would involve overlap between the 40 dBu interfering contour of the proposed FM Booster facility and the 60 dBu protected contour of an incumbent LPFM or FM Translator facility.
  • Applications for new and modified FM Booster stations must be subject to the same interference remediation rule that applies for proposed FM Translator facilities where objections against the construction of a new FM Booster may be made at the time of application.  Currently, these objections can only be entertained at the time the FM Booster facility is actually constructed and is causing interference and thus potentially rendering a long-standing LPFM or FM Translator station, useless.
  • If the concept of alternate programming on a FM Booster is authorized, then the technology used for the local ad insertion, must, upon the activation of the Emergency Alert System, immediately revert back to the primary station's programming in order to carry the emergency message including all data codes and attention signals. 

REC agrees with the NAB and many others who are concerned that a "booster boom" will an environment where FM radio will be deemed unreliable, especially in a vulnerable period of time when automobile manufacturers are contemplating FM radio's status on the dashboard in light of the avalability of other "infotainment" solutions.  

Finally, REC disputed GeoBroadcast Systems claims that ZoneCasting will "help minority broadcast owners".  In fact, the concept can hurt the many minority organization broadcast owners of LPFM stations as well as FM Translators and as we stated, it would also hurt many minority listeners through "targeting" interference into less desirable diverse neighborhoods while giving priority to the more profitable, affluent "gold coast" areas through a new form of discriminatory redlining. 

REC's comments, in this and other FCC proceedings can be found on our Filings page: