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10 Reps Write to Rosenworcel on Geo-Targeting

Democratic members cite benefits to minorities

Ten congressional Democrats have written to the FCC to support the idea of allowing geo-targeting on FM.

In a letter to Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, the representatives said “the inability to use boosters to geo-target specific ZIP codes further exacerbates inequities for minorities in broadcast radio.”

The commission recently took another round of comments on the longstanding proposal from GeoBroadcast Solutions to allow FM stations to use a few minutes of each broadcast hour to air unique programming on booster signals within certain areas of their main signal footprints.

Many large broadcast companies oppose this notion, led by the National Association of Broadcasters. They cite concerns about interference; disruption to the existing broadcast business model, which is already challenged by other factors; and the possibility of “red-lining” of broadcast content.

Supporters of the idea include minority broadcaster advocates and progressive media groups. In their letter, the representatives reiterated a number of arguments that those supports have advanced.

“With the ability to geo-target, minority owned radio stations could benefit from more advertisements sold, lower costs for small business advertisements and more curated cultural content,” wrote the 10 members of Congress.

“Minority-owned broadcasters are the standard bearers in their communities — the trusted voices for information and news for our constituents. For the declining number of minority-owned broadcasters to do more than survive and to truly thrive, they must have a fair and equitable opportunity to acquire technology to better serve, educate and inform their communities.”

[Related: “ZoneCasting Generates More Contention“]

They said that permitting FM stations to geo-target content “will not only help minority broadcasters, but the proposed rule will also relieve the frustration of minority small businesses by allowing them the option to purchase affordable, targeted advertising to reach their neighbors. This would be a significant opportunity for African American, Native American and Hispanic American small businesses that have been historically unable to afford the exorbitant prices associated with saturating an entire market with advertising.”

They also said the ability of stations to define specific areas and content “allow for a more diverse and personalized listener experience, including second-language content, useful communications during public health emergencies, weather advisories, traffic alerts, news updates and even local sports scores. Geo-targeted content to communities of color through culturally competent messaging will give radio stations an opportunity to provide listeners with a more personalized experience, including multilingual news. As our country continues to welcome refugees and immigrants from all over the world, we must be sure they have access to news and resources from their easily accessible local FM radio stations.”

The 10 Democrats ended by calling the pending decision “a historic opportunity to balance the scales and ensure technological advancements benefit those broadcasters wishing to utilize the option to serve minority communities.”

Signing the letter were Reps. Hank Johnson of Georgia, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Barbara Lee and Eric Swalwell of California, Anthony Brown of Maryland, Joyce Beatty of Ohio, Troy Carter of Louisiana, Danny Davis of Illinois, Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri and Bobby Scott of Virginia.