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Minority Broadcast Groups Press FCC on Ideas

Groups call one FCC proposal a potential “death knell for AM broadcasting”

Two groups representing minority broadcasters met with the FCC’s commissioners to highlight the priorities and frustrations of efforts that are happening at the agency.

In a series of five separate meetings, members of the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters met with the chairman and all four commissioners. On the table were five hot-button priorities for the organization, including piracy, rural radio, AM/FM radio subcaps and the newest issue up for debate: the FM C4 proposal.

The group was led by two MMTC representatives, Senior Advisor David Honig and President Maurita Coley, and NABOB President James Winston.

One issue at question concerned whether the effort that the commission is making when it comes to pirate radio is enough. Targeting landlords may not be enough, the organizations said. Not only has the closing of field offices has cut back piracy enforcement capacity, but the time it takes for pirate operators to be pursued by the Department of Justice exceeds a year, “and is a low DOJ priority,” the groups said. “Meanwhile, the pirates have moved to another location.”

At a minimum, the FCC needs additional enforcement powers, the organizations said. “Many of these operations choose to exploit the African-American community, drawing revenue away from legitimate broadcast licenses that invest in community service,” the organizations said.

The two groups also called on the FCC to repeal its Rural Radio Policy, which MMTC and NABOB say negatively impact minorities.

The rule protects incumbent broadcasters from competition, the organizations said, since minority broadcasters are often only able to obtain facilities in an exurban or rural area, which are often far from a minority broadcaster’s target market.

The organizations also addressed the commission’s consideration to eliminate AM-FM radio subcaps. Such an elimination could have a detrimental impact on minority broadcasters, the organizations claimed, since large FM owners in a market might find a way to expand their own inventory up to the eight-FM station limit, which could lead to limited future investment in AM radio. “This will lead to a rapid deterioration in the AM service and undermine the commission’s AM revitalization efforts,” the group said. “Elimination of the subcaps would be the death knell for AM broadcasting.”

But the organizations praised the commission for considering one specific change: potentially enabling nearly 800 Class A FM stations to double their power from 6,000 watts to 12,000 watts as part of the FM C4 proposal. This would allow hundreds of stations of all classes to improve their technical facilities without impacting the protected signal contours of neighboring stations, the organizations said. “Approval of [this proposal] would enable a diverse array of broadcasters to compete more effectively,” the group said.