The FCC is staying out of the “BusRadio” debate, saying the decision to allow such a service on a school bus system should be made at the local level.
But in a report this week, the agency encouraged BusRadio to adopt more specific content guidelines, make them easily accessible on its Web site, and establish processes that allow parents and other parties to monitor its programming in a timely and effective manner.
Congress mandated that the FCC study commercial programming services (either radio or TV) on school busses to look at whether the programming and commercials are age-appropriate because some parents had concerns. BusRadio is the only company that the FCC could find offering this type of service. Yet BusRadio is not an FCC licensee and therefore not subject to its broadcast regulations.
Founded in 2004, BusRadio says it reaches more than 8,500 busses in 170 school districts in 24 states. Its Web site features the admonition: “Today’s AM/FM programming is not designed for kids.” The Massachusetts-based company said it provides music, original programming, commercial content and PSAs to more than 1 million potential listeners between the ages of 6 and 18 every weekday during their daily school bus rides. It promises kids “more of the music they want minus the offensive lyrics, with 1/3 the sponsorships per hour of AM/FM.”
School districts take part at no cost. Participating busses are equipped with a BusRadio System. The units, which are able to receive both AM and FM radio, have both an integrated GPS receiver and an embedded cellular modem. A panic button connects a driver to authorities in an emergency.
I got a kick out of the FCC’s characterization of what the company says it offers: BusRadio describes its service “as a favorable alternative to FM radio programming that ensures a safer bus ride for students by providing school districts with valuable safety features that help minimize driver distractions, and keep students seated, well-behaved and occupied in a positive way.”
Um, I remember my bus days a little differently; when our driver had a radio turned on, we certainly weren’t listening to it because there was so much else going on in the bus. Noting that kids on a school bus are a captive audience, after some 30 pages, the agency says it doesn’t regulate content and suggested that the company more clear with parents about its programming.
The system uses Wi-Fi networks and micro servers. See the company’s explanation of its infrastructure here.