FCCOn October 3, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) announced its tentative agenda for the October Open Meeting, which includes two items of interest to broadcasters: (1) elimination of the Main Studio Rule, and (2) proposed updates to the rules governing ancillary/supplementary services provided by television broadcast stations and broadcast public notices.

As it has in recent months under Chairman Pai’s pilot program, the Commission has released the draft text for each item slated for the October meeting.

Draft Report and Order To Eliminate the Main Studio Rule: This draft Report and Order follows the May 18, 2017 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to eliminate the Main Studio Rule, under which broadcast stations currently must maintain a main studio either in their community of license, within the station’s principal community contour, or within 25 miles from the reference coordinates of the center of its community of license. As we have explained, the main studio has traditionally served as the hub for the station’s records and its contact with the community, but has recently come under criticism as outdated and unnecessary given modern means of communication.

Specifically, the draft Report and Order would: (1) eliminate the main studio rule; (2) eliminate requirements associated with the main studio rule, such as the requirement to have full-time management and staff present at the main studio during normal business hours and the requirement that the main studio have program origination capability; (3) amend other related Commission rules, such as references to “the main studio;” (4) retain the existing requirement for broadcasters to maintain a local or toll-free phone number; and (5) require stations to maintain portions of the public file that are not part of the online public file at a location within the station’s community of license so that the public may be able to access those files.

The draft Report and Order concludes that the rationale supporting the Main Studio Rule, which was first adopted in 1939, no longer holds with the advent of the online public file. It also cites record evidence showing that the elimination of the rule will allow broadcasters to better allocate resources for programming, equipment upgrades, newsgathering, and other services that will benefit consumers. Additionally, the draft Report and Order explains that eliminating the burdensome rule will help rural areas and small towns by preventing stations in those areas from going dark and encouraging the launch of new stations to serve those communities.

Draft NPRM To Update Rules Governing Ancillary/Supplementary Services and Broadcast Public Notices: This draft NPRM is part of the Commission’s Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative, which was launched in the Spring of 2017 and seeks to review, eliminate, and/or modify media regulations that are outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome. In the draft NPRM, Chairman Pai proposes to update reporting requirements related to ancillary and supplementary services provided by television stations and public notices for broadcast applications.

Currently, television broadcasters are required to annually file a Form 2100 to report the provision of ancillary or supplementary services, even if the broadcaster does not provide “feeable” ancillary or supplementary services. The draft proposed rule would only require broadcasters that provide “feeable” ancillary or supplementary services to file.

The draft NPRM also seeks public comment on whether to update or repeal the requirement that applicants for broadcast licenses publish public notices regarding the filing of broadcast applications. An update would include allowing public notices of broadcast applications to occur via the Internet, while a repeal would eliminate the public notice obligations entirely, given the “ready availability of many license applications on the Commission’s and stations’ websites today.”

Both items are planned to be voted on during the October 24, 2017 Open Commission meeting, which will be live-streamed here.

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