Making Good on Deregulation – FCC Proposes to Eliminate Main Studio Rules and Review All Other Broadcast Regulatory Requirements

In his speech at the NAB Convention (available here), Chairman Pai promised to pursue a broadcast regulatory regime that made sense in today’s competitive media environment. He promised to move quickly to eliminate a number of the unnecessary broadcast rules, and specifically to repeal the main studio rule (see our articles here and here about the current requirements for the operation and staffing of the main studio). Yesterday, the FCC took its first steps to quickly fulfill those promises, releasing two draft orders to be considered at its May 18 meeting, one to repeal the main studio rule and the second announcing the opening of a proceeding to review all of the other rules that govern broadcasters except the ownership rules that are already under consideration in other proceedings (see our posts here and here about some of the ownership rules already under review).

The draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking to eliminate the main studio rules asks a number of questions seeking support for the FCC’s tentative conclusion that the elimination of the main studio rule is in the public interest. The NPRM asks questions and seeks information including:

  • how much money the elimination of the main studio rule would save stations,
  • the public interest benefits that would result from any monetary savings (e.g. better programming),
  • information about how often the main studio is currently visited by community members and why they visit,
  • information about how community members communicate with broadcasters with complaints or suggestions about broadcast operations,
  • whether stations can still serve the issues faced by their communities without having a physical presence,
  • whether abolition of the main studio rules in any way abrogates the station’s obligation to serve its local community that would undermine the FCC’s obligations under Section 307(b) of the Communications Act to allocate stations to communities that need service,
  • how the elimination of the rule would work in connection with the requirement that radio stations move their public file online (e.g. should an online public file be a precondition of abolishing the studio or can the paper file be maintained somewhere else if the studio rule is abolished before next March when the online public file is mandatory for all stations),
  • whether to continue to require that stations have a local phone number accessible to residents of their community of license, and
  • specific inquiries as to how Class A TV stations would meet their obligations to air local programs if they have no main studio.

Assuming the FCC adopts the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking at the May 18 meeting, public comments on the proposal and the questions asked by the FCC will be 30 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register. That would likely put comments in late June or early July, with reply comments 15 days later.

The second proposed broadcast action to be considered at the May 18 meeting is much broader. A draft of a Public Notice to be considered at the May 18 meeting seeks comments in a new proceeding referred to as the FCC’s Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative. This Public Notice asks for suggestions from the broadcast community as to what other rules can be eliminated. All rules (except media ownership rules that are being separately considered) are now on the table for review. If the Public Notice is adopted substantially in the same manner as set out in this draft, the FCC wants comments on any rules that parties think should be changed or abolished. Comments on this Public Notice will be due 30 days after the Public Notice is formally adopted (thus likely putting comments due about June 20). Reply comments will be due 60 days after the final Public Notice is released.

With this broad invitation to suggest rules for elimination being offered up by the FCC, broadcasters should now start thinking about what rules and policies they would like to see changed, so that they can offer up their suggestions in June if the FCC adopts this Public Notice as expected at its May 18 meeting. The proposal to change the main studio rules is a break with tradition, and may well receive opposition. Stations that benefit from that abolition should provide the FCC with evidence of the benefits that the repeal would provide.

These actions clearly demonstrate the direction that this new administration at the FCC is pursuing, one which challenges many conventional assumptions about how broadcasting should be regulated. The opportunity to review rules so that broadcasting can better compete in the new media environment is now presented to the industry. It is time that the industry consider what rules really are needed, and what rules simply are remnants of a bygone era.