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Radio Protests New Allotment, Assignment Procedures

Groups ask FCC to reconsider much of the new streamlining order

Four petitions have been filed at the FCC asking it to reconsider parts of its new “rural radio” changes.

Modifications to allotment and assignment procedures that make it harder for stations to move from rural areas to larger markets became effective May 6.

In April, the FCC said these changes are meant to provide more opportunities for stations in smaller communities and rural areas, to protect listeners from losing their existing service. Stations now must provide more detail about proposed moves, especially when moving to a more populated market.

The most comprehensive filing (MB Docket 09-52) comes from 45 entities that submitted one petition — mostly a mixture of radio ownership groups, plus engineering consultant Mullaney Engineering and the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council.

They call the new policy arbitrary, ill advised and misguided. There is no factual evidence that rural service is lacking or that demand for such service is not being met, the groups state in the petition.

In the 27-page document, the radio groups say the new policy reverses nearly 30 years of law and relies on assumptions and speculation rather than a factual record. The new rules are similar to the Suburban Community Policy that the FCC itself rejected, recognizing that “the policy was detrimental to localism, competition and diversity and only served to protect incumbent broadcasters from new entrants competing in their markets,” state the groups.

The groups say the commission presumes that applicants proposing to serve a suburban community are not being truthful about their intentions. They want the FCC to update anachronistic policies rather than creating a new policy based on presumptions.

Entravision Communications said it was surprised the commission made the changes in the face of “a record of near-unanimity in opposing any substantive changes.” It urged the agency to clarify which proceedings fall under the old standards and what cases would be subject to the new ones.

M&M Broadcasters, licensee of a 10-station group, asked the commission not to apply the new procedures to pending station move applications. Another commenter, William Clay, says the changes don’t go far enough to prevent the system from being gamed.

At the recent NAB Show, Audio Division Chief Peter Doyle acknowledged that many broadcasters opposed the changes but said the commission felt the revisions were necessary. He said the agency was guided largely by a 1993 federal court decision that found the FCC’s policy for choosing among competing applicants was arbitrary. That decision led to a freeze on most stations moves for about a decade. He said the old policy could have been seen as arbitrary; it sometimes allowed moves that focused on service to 3% of the new market’s population and ignored the other 97%.

In most cases, Doyle said, the new rules should pose “no impediment to the city of license review process.”

— Leslie Stimson