FCC Votes To Eliminate Main Studio Rule

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FCC Votes To Eliminate Main Studio Rule
October 24, 2017 at 9:26 AM (PT)

Rule Change
The FCC approved the elimination of the main studio rule at its Open Meeting TODAY (10/24).
The change retains the existing requirement that stations maintain local or toll-free phone numbers in their communities and keep any public file material that isn’t online in a file accessible to the public in the community of license, but otherwise deletes the requirement of locating a main studio in the station’s community of license. The Commission voted 3-2 along party lines to approve the change, with Chairman AJIT PAI and Republican Commissioners MICHAEL O’RIELLY and BRENDAN CARR in favor and Democrat Commissioners MIGNON CLYBURN and JESSICA ROSENWORCEL voting no.
CLYBURN complained that the change shows that the FCC “signals that it no longer believes those awarded a license to use the public airwaves should have a local presence in their community.” She noted that the move contradicts the policy of promoting job creation and asked, “Why would an industry that repeatedly exposed the virtues of its local roots want to eliminate the only real connection to that very same community?” She suggested that the majority “could have exacted a more measured approach, such as… a revised waiver process that considers market size and economic hardship.”
O’RIELLY called the main studio rule “a clear example of a Commission rule where the costs outweigh any perceived benefit and I’m pleased we’re bringing this proceeding to a decisive conclusion…. this item eliminates costly burdens that no longer make sense in today’s modern world.” He noted that the rule does not eliminate the requirement that stations air programming responsive to community interests, suggesting that the change “could actually pave the way for even more local content, especially in rural communities.”
CARR said that “technological innovations now provide stations with far more, far more efficient and effective ways to interact with their local communities…. Not only is the main studio rule unnecessary, but the record shows that it actually hurts the ability of smaller stations, including those serving rural areas, from competing in today’s media marketplace.”
ROSENWORCEL cited the MINOT, ND 2002 train derailment as an example of the need for local studios and staffing, noting that “when broadcasters have a physical presence in the communities they serve, this is much less likely to happen.” She said that no stations in BEAUMONT, TX carried live coverage as Hurricane Harvey hit the city, and while nodding to “many broadcasters who do an extraordinary job serving communities during disaster,” she added, “let’s be honest, they can only do so when they have a very real presence in their area of license. That’s not some retrograde notion. It’s just a fact.”
“I do not believe that wiping out the main studio rule is going to solve problems like the ones we saw in MINOT and BEAUMONT,” ROSENWORCEL concluded. “I do not believe that it will lead to better community coverage. I do not believe it will lead to more jobs. I do believe it will hollow out the unique role broadcasters play in local communities, a role that is not just tradition but is an essential part of broadcasting under the Communications Act.”
PAI said that “the overwhelming majority of public input favored our proposal” and noted that NPR was supportive of the change. “Getting rid of the rule will help broadcasters help serve viewers and listeners especially those in small towns and rural areas where the cost of compliance dissuades broadcasters from even launching stations,” PAI added, pointing to a bidder in FM Auction 94 who chose not to build stations in SOUTH DAKOTA and MONTANA due to the costs associated with the main studio rule.
NAB EVP of Communications DENNIS WHARTON, speaking for the trade group, said, “NAB supports elimination of the main studio rule, which has outlived its usefulness in an era of mobile news gathering and multiple content delivery platforms. We’re confident that cost savings realized from ending the main studio rule will be reinvested by broadcasters in better programming and modernized equipment to better serve our local communities. We applaud the FCC for continuing to remove unnecessary and outdated broadcast regulations.”
The Commission also approved the issuance of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on a change to a rule regarding filing reports on revenue gained from ancillary services that also would eliminate the requirement of broadcasters publishing public notices in print publications. CLYBURN voted to issue the NPRM but called the public notice proposal “a horrible idea with no discernible benefit to consumers… Quite honestly, the very notion that the public’s first instinct is to check the station’s website to find out if they have filed a license application, that’s absurd…. It seems sometimes this Commission forgets that these are the public airwaves, and that comes with a series of obligations on broadcasters, including to serve and be responsive to the local needs and interests of their community.”