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Opinion: Open Up the Online Option

Technology continues to push the envelope of broadcast automation in the area of “command and control.”

Technology continues to push the envelope of broadcast automation in the area of “command and control.” Remote control systems come with a variety of monitoring options and interfaces. Test equipment is similarly capable. RW believes it is time the FCC rules reflect these improvements.

The commission regularly levies fines to stations that are in violation of rules that are superfluous in the age of the Internet. Failure to keep records as arcane as “The Public and Broadcasting” in the station’s public file can warrant a fine, even though that tutorial is readily available online. Perversely, these enforcement efforts would seem to affect the ability of the commission to keep pace with the increasing number of stations; thus less and less time is devoted to ensuring compliance with important rules, such as adherence to nighttime power reductions for AM stations and modulation levels on FM stations. Instead of worrying about whether the heart, lungs and brain are working properly, the commission is devoting its time and efforts to keeping the toenails trimmed.

RW believes there is a simple solution, one that can benefit broadcasters and the FCC equally.

The FCC should change the rules to permit, but not require, stations to place all technical monitoring and public documentation on the Internet.

These Web sites would be published for the public on the commission’s own Web page, and all interested parties, including the Enforcement Bureau, would have full access in real time, on a “read-only” basis. Power levels, modulation levels, tower light functioning, pattern status through tower base currents, EAS messages; all these and more could be made available.

In addition, the commission should extend the current practice of having station documentation available on the Internet and treat the electronic version as an adequate substitute for hard copies of the Public File in the station’s files.

By certifying (again, via the Internet) certain physical issues are in compliance, such as main studio staffing/operation and AM tower fencing, a participating station could be placed on a “Presumed Compliance” list, and avoid FCC inspections for a predetermined period of time.

Participating stations would avoid the uncertainty of a spot inspection and would be inclined to pay attention to the things that count.

Relieved of inspections to resolve non-critical issues, the FCC, for its part, could concentrate on really egregious violators, and in the process, clean up the airwaves to a degree that is not currently possible.

(This question is not hypothetical. Even as we were preparing this commentary, the FCC, in its recent IBOC rules, raised wider questions about how stations service the public interest. One question it asked is whether it should require all licensees to make the contents of public inspection files available on the station’s or a state broadcasters association’s Internet Web site. Stay tuned.)

— RW