What Pai Said About AM Rules
broadcasters might not have known much about new FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai prior
to last month’s Radio Show in Dallas, but he got the attention of attendees.
Pai said he wants the commission to help revitalize AM radio and to eliminate
the newspaper/radio cross-ownership ban in all markets. He also expressed
optimism that the agency can agree to eliminate restrictions on radio/TV
are excerpts from his address.
As we head into the future, I believe that
broadcasting should and will continue to play an important role in America’s
media landscape. … I don’t view broadband as a substitute for broadcast.
Instead, I see broadcast and broadband as complements.
Ajit Pai called in September for the launch of an AM Radio Revitalization
Unfortunately, it seems there’s a widespread
perception that today’s FCC is largely indifferent to the fate of your
Just to be clear, I don’t believe that this
impression is accurate. I care about broadcasting. And I can tell you that the
staff members of the Media Bureau’s Audio Division work hard every day on
issues of concern to radio broadcasters. … But I do understand where
broadcasters are coming from. I agree that the commission can do a better job
of focusing on what’s important to broadcasters. We also need to make a greater
effort to keep the lines of communication open between us.
[I]t’s time to take another look at our AM radio
regulations. The FCC last conducted a thorough review of those rules 21 years
ago. Since that time, AM radio has continued its relative decline. There are 20
percent more FM stations today than there were in 2002. Just another piece of
evidence that broadcast radio is still strong. But unfortunately, the number of
AM stations has actually fallen during that same period.
Within the 12–34 age range, AM stations currently
account for less than 10 percent of radio listening. These younger listeners
should represent the future of AM radio, but many of them never tune in.
In order to
reverse these trends, I propose that the commission launch an AM Radio
Revitalization Initiative in early 2013. Specifically, we should conduct a
comprehensive review of all our AM radio rules. We should focus on one basic
question: Are there regulatory barriers we can remove to help this sector
There have been many changes in technology since we
last reviewed these rules back in 1991. One notable change is that AM reception
has gotten worse. The causes of interference to AM signals have only expanded
in the last two decades. If you’ve tried flipping through the AM dial recently,
you know what I’m talking about. But I’m hopeful that we can identify and
implement reforms that will improve AM radio service.
In fact, a variety of ideas already have been put on the
table for liberalizing the commission’s technical rules to allow for broader
and better reception of AM signals. Some have advocated for an across-the-board
power increase for AM stations. Some have called for the use of synchronous AM
transmission systems. And some have encouraged the development of so-called
“anti-skywave antennas” so that some AM stations won’t have to go dark at
night. The AM Radio Revitalization Initiative should explore each of these
suggestions and many others. … We should aim to complete this initiative one
year later, in early 2014.
We should finish reviewing our ownership regulations
by the end of this year. Congress instructed the commission to review our media
ownership rules every four years. That’s why it’s called a quadrennial review.
But it has been almost five years since we completed our last media ownership
I realize that there will be plenty of disagreement on how we should reform our ownership regulations. But I hope that there are at least a couple of areas where we can reach a broad consensus. Most obviously, I believe that the time has come to make substantial changes to the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule (or NBCO for short). Our current NBCO prohibition has been in place since 1975.
Likewise, newspapers and broadcasting were pretty much the
only game in town in 1975. But there have been revolutionary changes in our
media landscape over the last 37 years. Satellite radio competes with
terrestrial; cable and satellite television compete with broadcast. The rise of
the Internet has given broadcasters new opportunities but created substantial
new competition. And the decline of traditional advertising revenues has impacted
broadcasters and newspapers alike. The commission’s media ownership rules
cannot ignore these unmistakable marketplace realities.
commission issued a proposal for reforming the NBCO rule in 2011. That was a
step in the right direction. But it doesn’t go far enough. For example, I
believe we should eliminate restrictions on newspaper/radio cross-ownership.
Not just in the top 20 markets, but in all markets.
I have looked through
the record compiled by the commission on this issue, and the simple fact is
this: No one has presented significant evidence to justify the continued
prohibition of newspaper/radio cross-ownership.
For if you believe in localism, then you should know that
cross-owned radio stations are four to five times more likely to have a news
format, according to an FCC-commissioned study. If you believe in competition,
then you should know that cross-ownership is good for business; it allows for
local news to be gathered in an economically efficient manner and then
distributed across multiple platforms.
Aside from repealing the newspaper-radio cross-ownership
rule, I am also optimistic that we can reach a consensus on eliminating the
radio-television cross-ownership rule. I agree with the commission’s 2011
conclusion that the rule is no longer necessary to protect competition,
localism, or diversity.
[T]he commission must rededicate itself to processing
broadcast license renewals in a timely fashion. Renewal applications shouldn’t
languish at the commission for years. With the U.S. Supreme Court issuing its
indecency decision earlier this year, now is the time for the commission to
act. We should both clear the backlog of complaints that have piled up over the
last several years and address the hundreds of license renewal applications
that remain pending.