Comments on Tests of GeoBroadcast Solutions Zonecasting System Due June 6 – What Are the Issues?

The FCC released a Public Notice last week setting the date for comments on the results of GeoBroadcast Solutions tests of their “zonecasting” system that would allow FM boosters within a primary FM station’s protected contour to originate limited amounts of programming different than that carried on the main station. Comments on the tests are due by June 6, with replies to the comments due by June 21.

The zonecasting proposal has been pitched as a way to allow FM stations to localize their content – making it possible for one FM station to use FM boosters to run different commercials or news inserts in different parts of their service area.  The hope of supporters is that adoption of this proposal would give broadcasters a tool to fight back at the targeting of listeners that can be done by online audio services.  While some stations and groups have seen this as a potential positive, others, including the NAB, have been more critical of the proposal.

Those in support of the idea see it as a way of increasing revenues by geotargeting consumers through different commercials targeted to different neighborhoods in an urban environment, or different communities in a more rural area. But other broadcasters worry about the impact on the economics of smaller stations dependent on local advertising dollars to support their local service.  If a big central-city station can originate unique ads in different outlying parts of its metropolitan area, will these ads impinge on the ability of stations providing service only to these outlying communities to support their locally-targeted programming?  Will big regional stations in more rural areas be able to do the same thing – compete for local dollars in each smaller community in its service area – dollars that currently go to stations that just serve those smaller communities? We wrote more about other issues raised in this proceeding here.

These competing positions have already been staked out in comments filed last year on the rulemaking proposal.  The new comments are merely to address the results of field tests done to look at the interference that would be caused when a primary FM station and its same-frequency boosters are originating different content at the same time.  Again, there are different views.  Supporters of the idea think that interference can be minimized so as to be relatively imperceptible to listeners, while opponents worry that any interference will degrade the FM listening experience.  Parties will no doubt contest the meaning of degrees of interference and what that means to listener’s experiences.

Many FM broadcasters are watching this proceeding carefully to see where the FCC ultimately comes out.  Review the comments – and let the FCC know your position by the newly established comment deadlines.

Courtesy Broadcast Law Blog