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MMTC Asks for Regulation Relief

Rural regs, four contingent limit and contour protection are issues

With the Federal Communications Commission intent on eliminating or modifying outdated regulations and burdensome rules, the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council has suggestions on where to start. The advocate for minority broadcast interests met with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai last week to fine tune its focus on the commission’s Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative.

MMTC discussed with FCC officials three current regulations that impact minority owners and small broadcasters: Rural Radio Service policies, the pending reconsideration petitions involving the limit of four contingent applications, and the use of contour protection instead of spacing requirements for FM assignments.

The organization touched on its key points during the meeting, which also included the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, Salem Media Group, Wiley Rein LLP and Brantley Broadcast Associates, and then summarized those objectives in an ex parte notice it shared with Radio World.

David Honig, MMTC president emeritus and senior advisor, explained in the summary rural radio policies negatively impact minorities and protect incumbents from competition. “In the past, when minorities and other small broadcasters obtained stations, only those in the more rural areas were available. The larger market stations were too expensive to purchase and, as a result, these stations are in areas which do not coincide with their target markets. But whenever there are spectrum improvements available to them which would allow coverage to their intended audiences, these modifications are closed off by the rural radio policies.

“These improvements are not allowed even if a public interest showing can demonstrate that the rural areas will not be left unserved and, that based on past history, the spectrum made available is nearly always occupied shortly thereafter by other stations or by new allotments created. These policies are of a particular detriment to AM station owners desirous of implementing the new rules and policies created by the AM revitalization proceeding,” according to Honig.

The FCC’s “limit of four” rule allows for only four contingent applications for modifications of facilities, according to the organization.

“We explained that, previously, when community of license or channel changes were made to the Table of Allotments by rule making, there was no such limit. It was believed that the rules and policies in effect for the rule-making process would be continued, to the extent, possible when the application process was substituted. Although there are very few instances historically where the number of contingent applications exceed four (as documented in the pending Petitions for Reconsideration), the commission staff considers its own administrative resources as a higher priority than the improvement of facilities by minority and other small broadcasters,” Honig wrote.

MMTC concludes its recommendations discussing how interference considerations in the FM commercial band are regulated by spacing rules and allotments organized by classes of stations. “If a station meets the minimum criteria for a certain class, then it receives the maximum protection for that class. However, in the restricted noncommercial educational band and in the AM band, contour protection defines interference protections,” Honig explained.

As a result, much available spectrum in the commercial band is overprotected and wasted, according to the group.

“We propose to universally implement contour protection for the commercial band instead of the spacing limits and classes of stations. The FM service has matured to the point where there is little spectrum available for improvement and the remaining modifications and new allotments could be more effectively and efficiently administered by contour protection. It was acknowledged that one commenter opposed removing second- and third-adjacent spacing protections but those protections would remain in the proposed contour protection system.”

The FCC began its modernization efforts in May with a public notice (MB Docket 17-105). Last week’s meeting with MMTC seems to indicate the commission is still evaluating input from media entities.