Should Broadcasters Sue Pirates?

In many respects, I feel sorry for FCC Commissioner Mike O’Reilly. He’s the #2 Republican on the five-member panel – the politically-weakest Commissoner. And he’s had to languish in the shadow of fellow Republican Ajit Pai, who’s commandeered the minority party’s bully pulpit on a plethora of issues ranging from journalistic independence to network neutrality.

So O’Reilly’s got to make a name for himself somehow, and he’s choosing pirate broadcasting as an issue on which to try. Last week, he published a blog post wherein he lays out some cockamamie suggestions on how to handle “the sourge” that is unlicensed broadcasting. Key to O’Reilly’s proposal is…the CAN-SPAM Act? Read More

Reactions to FCC Enforcement Downsizing

On the heels of some Congressional inquiry into the the FCC’s plan to radically cut its field enforcement resources, the National Association of Broadcasters finally chimed in. In a post titled “Defanging a Paper Tiger” (hm, where have I heard that term before?), NAB VP of Spectrum Policy Bob Weller gave the idea two big thumbs down.

Weller, who joined NAB last year after several years with the FCC working spectrum policy/enforcement issues, says the new proposal effectively undoes a service-cushion implemented by the agency when it last downsized its enforcement resources some 20 years ago: Read More

FCC Enforcement Cuts: The Fine(ish) Print

More details are trickling out about the proposal to dramatically slash the FCC’s enforcement presence in the field. To recap: two-thirds of the FCC’s 24 field offices would be closed, and staffing would be cut in half. To make up for the cuts, the FCC would establish a “tiger team” to descend on enforcement hot-spots, using pre-positioned equipment. Where the FCC cedes the field entirely, it seeks to establish relationships with private-sector interests to help with its job.

At a hearing on Capitol Hill last week on the FCC budget, Chairman Tom Wheeler attempted to explain the cuts. He said this is the first time the agency’s examined its enforcement activities in such depth in more than 20 years. They found the FCC’s “field footprint” to be “too large and inefficient.” His prepared testimony casts this as dispassionate math: simply put, the cost-per-employee out in the field is much higher than it is back at headquarters. Read More

Broadcasters: Music and Sports Payola is Okay

Several broadcasters have teamed up in a petition with the FCC seeking to change the agency’s sponsorship identification rules. Presently, if an entity pays a radio station to put a program on the air, the station must clearly disclose this relationship on the air at the time the sponsored programming is played. This rule is an old one, first instituted to crack down on the practices of payola and plugola — or the back-channel compensation of radio stations by record labels and promoters to spin their tunes.

The “Radio Broadcasters Coalition” reads like a who’s who of corporate radio: Beasley Broadcast Group, Cox Radio, Cromwell, Emmis, Entercom, First Natchez, Greater Media, Henson Media, and Clear Channel iHeartMedia. Their 20-page proposal seeks to flip the script on payola/plugola disclosures, allowing stations to air music and sports programming that the station is paid directly for without any on-air disclosure at the time of broadcast. Instead, the Coalition suggests that stations engage in a “robust listner education program” about sponsored programming, run “daily announcements” about sponsored programming, and post “enhanced disclosures” online. Read More

Massive Cuts Planned to FCC Field Enforcement

A very interesting memorandum was leaked last week to two trade publications detailing a plan to severely reduce the FCC’s enforcement presence in the field. Presently, the agency’s Enforcement Bureau has two dozen field offices scattered throughout 17 states and Puerto Rico. However, not every field office is created equal: there are Regional Offices (many employees), District Offices (a handful of employees) and Resident Agent Offices (one or two people).

According to the American Radio Relay League, two-thirds of all FCC Enforcement Bureau offices would be closed, leaving just half the staff (33 people total) in the field. And their management is positively evicerated: reduced from 21 positions to just five. Read More