Continuing its lobbying push at the FCC, GeoBroadcast Solutions and several of its allies met with FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and other commission officials including Holly Saurer, chief of the Media Bureau, last week.
The group included representatives of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, National Newspaper Publishers Association, Roberts Radio Broadcasting, the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council, JAM Media Solutions and Kizart Media Partners.
According to a GBS summary of the meeting, the group expressed “their broad and deep support” for the GBS proposal that would permit FM broadcasters to originate content from booster stations for a limited part of each program hour.
They went over the list of arguments that GBS has been making in the face of opposition from the National Association of Broadcasters and many of the big U.S. radio groups including iHeartMedia.
Those arguments include the limited and voluntary nature of the proposal; the fact that “every other form of media” has some form of geo-targeting; that the rule change would benefit minority-owned radio stations, businesses and audiences; and that testing at WRBJ(FM) in Jackson, Miss., supports its arguments.
[Related: “NAB Scotts at GBS Geotargeting Tests”]
They also told Rosenworcel that the GBS technology “adds small, local businesses to the advertising pool,” that current FCC rules already mandate that boosters not disrupt a primary station signal; that broadcasters will have incentive not to self-interfere; and that there is “zero risk” of cross-channel interference, given the nature of all boosters to operate on-frequency.
They added that field tests at WRBJ and at KSJO in San Jose, Calif., “show that the technical concerns raised about this technology have been thoroughly answered.” According to GBS, “the testing at WRBJ shows that even in a challenging environment like pancake-flat Jackson, the booster technology can be designed to minimize interference between a primary signal and a geo-targeted booster signal and to render minuscule transition areas in low or non-populated parts of the broadcaster’s footprint.”
GBS told the commission officials that big radio group owners “seek to stifle innovation and hobble the small, independent and in many cases minority-owned stations trying to find a way to compete in today’ s media marketplace.”
GBS, NAB their respective supporters and other parties have been trading press releases and announcements for months arguing over most of these points.
In July for example, two members of Congress expressed concerns about potential harms the technology may have on communities of color. “The proposal before the commission is cleverly marketed as a tool to serve Black and Brown communities, when in fact it can be used for just the opposite — to avoid serving those communities,” they wrote in the letter to Rosenworcel. “Any potential benefit must be weighed against this significant risk for harm.”
But that letter followed one submitted in June by 10 congressional Democrats who were in favor of allowing geo-targeting on FM, saying the opposite, that the technology could provide benefits to minorities.
The NAB has dismissed the experimental testing data provided to the FCC by GeoBroadcast Solutions. The association told the FCC earlier that GBS rigged the tests, that it “effectively attempted to ‘catfish’ the commission by submitting only glowing test results for extremely circumscribed, specifically engineered situations” and that it failed to address numerous critical issues raised by the FCC and the radio industry.
NAB has insisted that allowing boosters to originate programming would cause harmful interference and be catastrophic to the radio business model. It said that “permitting ZoneCasting’s operation will almost certainly drive listeners away from terrestrial radio and put listeners’ safety at risk” and asked that the FCC reject the proposed rule change.