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Media Ownership, Performance Royalties on Tap for 2013

Two of the top issues facing radio in Washington spill-over from 2012

A few regulatory issues the FCC, and in some cases Congress, reviewed in 2012 will spill over into 2013.

An item to eliminate the newspaper/broadcast and TV/radio cross-ownership ban is now circulating among the commissioners. A vote on that partial relaxation to the media ownership rules was delayed at the behest of FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and public advocacy groups. They feel the FCC doesn’t know enough about the effect of planned changes to minority station ownership. According to a report released by the agency, minority radio ownership is stagnant at 8%.

The commission is waiting to vote until after public comments are received on the report in January.

The FCC made a few decisions regarding licensing of new low-power FMs; it aims to open a filing application window for those next October.

New rules implementing the Local Community Radio Act become effective Jan. 10, 2013. That’s unless the new rules are stayed for some reason. Jan. 10, 2013, is also the deadline to file any petitions for reconsideration.

The commission punted on a decision to license higher power LPFMs; saying it didn’t have enough information to make a decision regarding licensing lower-power stations. Current LPFMs are licensed at 100 watts of power.

Members of a recently-formed coalition intend to file a petition challenging the power decision, saying lack of LPFMs between 101 to 250 watts will cause an under-service of the lower-watt stations in small towns.

Related to the LPFM licensing is how the commission will process the remaining FM translator applications that have been pending since 2003.

The agency bumped up the national cap on pending FM translator applications that one entity can pursue from 5o to 70, as long as no more than 50 are in the top 150 markets. It relaxed the local cap on one application per entity up to three applications one company can pursue in more rural markets.

Commission officials released a public notice detailing a Jan. 10-25 filing window by which pending FM translator applicants that have more applications than allowed under the new caps must choose which of their applications to pursue; the FCC would dismiss the rest.

The commission also clarified how it will handle processing of FM translator applications in embedded Arbitron Radio Metros.

The FCC intends to treat each embedded market as a separate market for the purposes of the per-market cap.

Emmis Communications Chairman/President/CEO Jeff Smulyan remained hopeful about the progress made on the issue of embedding or activating FM chips in wireless mobile devices.

In a meeting at the FCC with the wireless industry on the issue and in a hearing before Congress on the future of audio in general this fall, Smulyan expressed optimism about radio being able to “incentivize” the wireless carriers. The carriers, meanwhile made it clear to commissioners they prefer a light regulatory touch.

Also at the FCC, AM station owners may get more relief. Commissioner Ajit Pai proposed a review of all AM rules in 2013, saying a study is long overdue since the commission last reviewed AM rules 21 years ago. Calling for an AM revitalization effort, Pai said the goal is to determine if there are any regulatory barriers the FCC can remove to help AM rebound.

Switching to Congress, performance royalties will get lawmakers’ attention in 2013.

Members of a House Judiciary Subcommittee recently discussed the “Internet Radio Fairness Act of 2012,” which proponents say would treat all digital radio services equally in terms of their music streaming royalties. While the measure introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and others focuses on services like those provided by Pandora, satellite radio and Muzak, several Democratic lawmakers wanted to discuss terrestrial radio too.

While too late for action in the 112th session of Congress, the issue is definitely teed up for the next session that begins in January.