Deregulatory Measure Of the Day: Reassessing the Programming Duplication Rule

Submitted by Todd Urick on Fri, 11/22/2019 - 13:41

In a public notice released November 22, the FCC asks whether to modify or eliminate the "radio duplication rule."  We notice that any time lately when the Commission has proposed to take away any public interest rules where the benefit is not clear, they are obliged throw-in a superlative to make it seem like "since the rule is extremely old, why does it even pertain to the current technology era?"  Here they used the word "Commission seeks comment on decades-old radio duplication rule".  Previous headlines include "...Outdated and Burdensome Regulations.." (regarding elimination of copper line POTS), "Eliminates Burdensome Tariff Filing Rules" (regarding Dkt No 17-276), and regarding the court case on "Restoring Internet Freedom" ie., elimination of net neutrality: "Widespread Support for the DC Circuit's Ruling Upholding the FCC's Repeal of Heavy-Handed, 1930s-Style internet Regulation."  Anytime a person hears these descriptions it sounds like the FCC needs to sell these propositions to the reader because the rule changes aim to assist the industry on not the public.

In the notice of proposed rulemaking, the FCC takes aim at Section 73.3556 of the rules. The rule limits AM or FM stations from airing more than 25% of total hours in an average broadcast week of duplicative programming. The rule specifically applies to commercial stations in the same service (AM/FM) with contour overlap that are commonly owned or within a time brokerage agreement. Similar rules were created in the mid-1960s to spur broadcasters to create programming for new FM stations rather than just rebroadcast AM stations.  In 1986 the rules were repealed citing FM had developed into a mature, competitive service.   In 1992, the rule was restored to commonly-owned/brokeraged states to a limit of 25% duplication.  

The rulemaking hints at repealing the rule, but to what benefit?  That question is not expanded upon within the rulemaking.  While it would not seem competitive to duplicate programming on the surface, programming is a lot cheaper if completely duplicated.  Or, we see in the case of non-commercial FM network KLOVE/AIR1 (as NCE stations are not subject to the duplication rule), that duplication of these services exist in several markets just for the sake of occupying as many radio channels as possible.  This effectively precludes any other use of the channels.  Unless there is any obvious reasoning to repeal this rule in this case, this appears as deregulation for the sake of deregulation.