Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


NAB Still Has Serious Doubts About Geotargeting FM Booster Technology

Advocacy group fears smaller broadcasters are at risk

Within the past week, broadcasters gained permission to use GeoBroadcast Solutions’ ZoneCasting technology to geo-target a limited amount of content if they wish, but the FCC is still collecting final comments on what the finished rules should look like. 

The National Association of Broadcasters is weighing in again hoping to convince the commission that geotargeting is a bad concept that will hurt small broadcasters, especially Class A FM stations in fringe areas of large markets.

The fear, NAB says, is that large broadcasters in those markets will use this technology to capture local advertising business from smaller stations, which could lead to a reduction in advertising rates and pave the way for the redlining of advertising away from less affluent areas. 

The association also argues that basic engineering makes clear that use of program-originating boosters is likely to harm listeners due to inevitable signal disruption in “transition areas” where a station’s primary signal meets a booster signal that is airing different content.

“This interference will not only harm the station baited into employing the technology, but also is likely to erode public confidence in FM radio broadcasting generally,” NAB says. 

[Related: “The FCC Will Allow FM Geotargeting“]

The NAB goes on to ask the FCC for certain safeguards on the use of program-originating boosters, including stringent synchronization requirements for primary and booster signals to minimize self-interference.

“NAB submits that stations seeking to originate programming on boosters should be required to design a system that prevents unwanted interference, including voluntary self-interference to the station’s primary signal,” NAB says.

It also questions the testing methodology used by GeoBroadcast Solutions that “never included real-world conditions.” 

The FCC found that GBS’s testing of ZoneCasting shows that “properly engineered program-originating boosters can be implemented without causing harmful interference,” but according to the NAB filing, “This is a baffling statement based on the record and GBS’s almost laughable testing regime. For example, GBS only examined its system using back-to-back boosters placed at cherry-picked locations …” 

The association continues to question the system’s compatibility with EAS alerts, and asks the commission to track which stations are using ZoneCasting and monitor whether these stations are causing unwanted interference. 

Radio broadcasters for now can use up to 25 FM boosters with experimental authorization to geo-target content to a subset of their listening area for a portion of each broadcast hour, but GeoBroadcast Solutions, in additional comments, is already pushing for less regulations if the rollout proves successful for early adopters. 

GBS says: “If evidence shows that certain concerns remain unfounded, the commission should be willing to consider changes to its adopted and proposed safeguards that would provide FM broadcasters with even greater flexibility.” 

That includes the 25 boosters per station cap, which is an “appropriate starting point” during the rollout of program originating boosters, GBS says.

“Unnecessary technical and procedural requirements could slow the deployment of this technology and limit its adoption,” GBS wrote in its most recent filing. 

GBS say that since the FCC adopted the new booster rules in March and granted stations experimental authority to use the technology, it has engaged with a number of FM broadcasters seeking to learn more about how they may use ZoneCasting to better serve their communities and remain competitive in today’s media market.

Also filing comments, Press Communications reiterated its disdain for the technology: “This proposal is yet another in a seemingly long line of proposals which we feel creates an unnecessary imposition on the radio industry, and Class A stations in particular, and represents a significant financial threat to an industry already beleaguered by other competitive actions that have been allowed to take root.”

Press Communications owns five Class A FMs and one AM radio station in New Jersey.

Reply comments on the FCC’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (MB Docket No. 20-401) are due June 17.

[Read more past coverage of the geo-targeting debate.]