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Sen. Van Hollen Adds to Growing List of ZoneCasting Concerns

He sent a letter to the FCC chairwoman this week regarding GBS' proposal

The debate surrounding GeoBroadcast Solutions’ proposal involving its geo-targeting technology continues, with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (MD) expressing his concerns to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a letter Tuesday, Dec. 13.

If the heavily-disputed proposal is approved by the commission, it would permit FM stations to geotarget some content by utilizing a system of specialized FM boosters. If approved, the ZoneCasting technology would allow FM stations to use a few minutes of each broadcast hour to air unique, targeted programming on booster signals.

“Comments submitted to the FCC warn that the hyper-targeted messaging ZoneCasting enables could reduce the effectiveness of emergency alert systems, exacerbate racial inequity by restricting content and advertising, and undermine the overall economic ecosystem of the broadcast industry, specifically disadvantaging small and minority-owned radio stations,” said Van Hollen in his letter.

Determining whether or not minority-owned radio stations will benefit from geo-targeting has been one of the hot button topics in this debate, with one notable group of supporters — who publicly said the technology would help bridge the disparity gap — eventually switching sides. At the end of October, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, in a split vote by its board of directors, pulled its support of the controversial proposal.

“The limited testing of the technology, which has led to uncertainty about the degree of disruption to listeners and stations from signal interference, is also noteworthy,” Van Hollen continued in his letter. “Despite the voluntary nature of the proposed change, this new technology would be an added expense for radio stations to acquire and maintain.”

Van Hollen’s most recent comments follow those of 13 other members of Congress in October, all voicing concerns regarding GeoBroadcast Solutions’ geo-targeting proposal. On the flipside, the most recent round of support for the proposal came from Christian broadcast organization Radio by Grace at the end of November.

GeoBroadcast Solutions spokesperson Robert Udowitz said, “We welcome Sen.Van Hollen’s direction to the FCC that it carefully examine all of the issues raised in this proceeding. The voluminous record in this proceeding indicates that’s what’s happening. And the broad support from small and medium station groups owners, civil rights groups, and many others makes clear that the rule change is in the public interest.”

[Read more of Radio World’s extensive geo-targeting coverage here]