The FCC issued a press release on Thursday responding to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on America’s broadcasters, particularly the severe financial hardship most find themselves now in. “The FCC does very much value the work that radio broadcasters have been doing,” said Chair Ajit Pai. However, while the FCC cannot offer direct financial aid to struggling radio & TV owners, they can & are offering to find ways to ease the burden & seem open to ideas to implement this. The agency can allow some broadcasters to enter into payment plans for any fee owed so that it doesn’t become a fatal blow for stations unable to pay. “One thing that comes to mind is to allow AM broadcasters to reduce power to save money on power bills,” Pai told Inside Radio, “That’s one of the things that may seem relatively small, but it’s an important step in helping some of the AM broadcasters to continue operations.” He said the FCC is open to any other ideas that operators can present. The article notes: ‘Communications attorney Rick Hayes last week sent a letter to Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) suggesting Congress step in and temporarily suspend the requirement that the FCC collect 2020 annual regulatory fees by September 30 in order to help them cope with the impact of the pandemic. “My clients are worried about another bill which will come due for them,” Hayes wrote. “These fees could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for many of them. Non- payment of these fees can and have resulted in a few stations losing their licenses.” He pointed out that an AM station in Portland, ME would pay as much as $4,800 while an FM station would pay $5,325. “Many stations simply cannot afford to make these payments, this year,” said Hayes. So far Hayes hasn’t received any reply about his suggestion but he says Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) is also working to advance the proposal in Congress. The FCC has traditionally allowed broadcasters to seek a waiver, reduced fee, or a deferral of its regulatory fees to reduce the impact when paying such a bill
would cause a hardship on a station. It has proposed to continue offering that accommodation in 2020. But with the Communications Act explicitly saying the FCC must collect regulatory fees to recover the costs of its operations, Pai said there are limits to what it can do on its own. “We still are legally required to collect fees to pay our bills,” he said. But a separate idea presented to the Enforcement Bureau doesn’t appear to require congressional action. Hayes proposed the FCC suspend or postpone all EEO public file reports and audits for the remainder of 2020.’ Hayes commented: “The stations lack the staffs to pull this information together and many of them have been laid-off.” While he hasn’t yet received any response from the FCC, Hayes said broadcasters have been overwhelmingly supportive of his proposal.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
Meanwhile, FCC offices remain closed & will stay that way until Chairman Ajit Pai receives the okay from local and federal agencies managing the COVID-19 crisis before making any decision to re-open. As with many other government agencies & private businesses, FCC staff continue to work from home which may actually assist the agency as it’s in the process of moving to a different facility reducing it’s work space in spite of an ever increasing workload. It has planned a June move to a new office space that will be 30% smaller with reduced annual rent. The move will cost $71 million but the FCC has estimated that the new office space will make up for that with as much as $119 million in total net savings over the 15 years of the new lease. The new lease with the Portals requires the FCC to move to a newly-built facility by the time the current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
The FCC has finally approved some much welcome changes to technical operation of LPFM’s as a result of considerable input from all players affected by these changes. Both supporters & opponents have weighed in before legislation has been implemented & not all will be happy with the results – particularly the bigger corporate broadcasters who see incursion of LPFM stations a threat to their signals & in some instances their stagnated, homogeneous programming. LPFM’s will now be allowed to use directional antennas to concentrate their very low powered signals into areas they specifically wish to target. Rules updated include allowing waivers of protections of TV channel 6, making the category of “minor change” wider, and allowing boosters. Over objections from commercial broadcasters, antenna ‘Proof of Performance’ specifications will be used to determine coverage, “minor changes” definitions to include LPFM site changes up to 11.2 km, or up to any greater distance that would result in overlapping 60 dBu service contours between the existing and relocated facilities; allowing boosters; and making several small non-substantive word changes. An FCC press release authored by Commissioner Michael O’Rielly stated: “The fundamental principles of Low Power FM (LPFM) radio include no advertising and no
harmful interference to existing broadcasters. Today, we move forward with a narrow set of improvements to our LPFM rules, and we also include safeguards to ensure certain changes do not harm other FM broadcasters. Nonetheless, I remain sympathetic to the commenters who voiced concern
regarding the potential deployment of more directional antennas by LPFM stations and have to trust that proofs of performance will provide adequate insurance against misuse. Further, I understand that these antennas are expected to be used primarily in locations near our country’s international borders, but this is an important issue that I intend to watch closely as these rules are implemented. On a separate note, I appreciate that we were able to include additional notification protections for Television Channel 6 stations, as we await further action on TV channel 6 usage for FM broadcasting in the future. I approve.”
FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly