REC joins NAB, iHeart & others in opposition to draconian efforts by the FCC to regulate website and app layout

Late Monday evening, REC Networks wrote a letter to the attention of the FCC Media Bureau and the Media Advisers for all Commissioners and the Chairman to oppose language in the draft Report and Order for MB Docket 17-264 relating to the requirement in the Communications Act that broadcast stations must make public notice when certain types of applications are filed.

Currently, in most cases, public notice is done through newspaper advertising. Announcements over the air are permitted in the case of noncommercial stations currently on the air, commercial stations in certain situations and for all license renewals.

Under the overall proposal, the Commission is moving public notices from newspapers to websites.  Commercial stations would be required to place the public notices which, in the past, would have been newspaper ads to go to their station or owner’s website instead. Noncommercial stations (including LPFM) will make over the air announcements unless the station is silent or is a new entrant that is not on the air.  In those cases, the applicant would be able to use their station website or a website for a parent organization (and be subject to the rules in question here). 

In addition to license renewals, public notice is also required on certain “major” applications such as assignments to other organizations, major moves of stations, full-service station changes of communities of license as well as new-entrant applications for original construction permits.

At issue in these last minute discussions relates to edicts put in place by the Commission that require that the link to reach these public notices (1) be titled “FCC Applications”, (2) be located on a tab or link at the top of the page and (3) that the link remain, even if there are no active public notices for the station.  Also at issue are regulations requiring that if the station has a mobile app, that the public notice link also be offered in the mobile app either as a link at the top of the screen or as a menu option.

In NAB’s April 29 presentations, they stated that these specifications in the draft order are “more burdensome and disruptive while being less helpful to consumers than the current outdated rules”.  They also cited the inequity between the specifications for the public notice link versus links for the online public inspection file and EEO reports, which are required of full-service stations and may be placed anywhere on the front landing page of the station’s website without any requirement of placement on a mobile app.

The NAB supports a position where stations should be permitted to use either their website or an app but not be required to use both and that the FCC should not take a broader approach without “undertaking a broader proceeding that considers the impact of an apps-based approach to consumer notice on the deployment of apps by broadcasters and other communications providers and how the addition of such notices will affect the customer experience.”

In REC’s May 4 letter, we supported the statements made by NAB expanding that the text of the draft order sends the message that the FCC assumes that all station websites and mobile apps are created equal and that the draft order does not take into consideration small broadcasters, the fact that some stations have “set and forget” websites, not every website uses a content management system like Drupal or WordPress, that many stations use a cookie cutter mobile app that is provided by companies like Nobex Partners and are not custom developed and the fact that many stations do not have their own mobile app but instead promote third party mobile apps such as TuneIn.  REC also stated that there was no participation in this proceeding by those companies that actually develop websites and mobile apps to discuss the viability of the Commission’s proposals.

In addition to REC, iHeartMedia also chimed in with their own presentations before staff on Friday, May 1. iHeart further expanded that not only does the iHeartRadio App cover all of the iHeart stations but also hosts 1,400 stations owned by other media entities and further states that it would be “highly disruptive and impractical for iHeart Media to be required to ensure that proper application notifications were included for its stations in the app, not to mention the even greater number of non-owned radio stations utilizing the iHeartRadio app”.  In addition to iHeart, a consortium of broadcast owners including Beasley, Cumulus, Entercom, several smaller owners and public broadcasters also oppose the provisions in the draft order.

On separate issues in the 17-264 public notice proceeding, REC wrote a letter to the Media Bureau and Commission staff with concerns about the announcements proposed for LPFM stations.  The Draft Order calls for LPFM stations to announce the URL in lieu of the public file URL (since LPFM does not have access to the FCC public file system). Our concerns regarding that URL is that it can’t be clearly spoken over the air and that the URL currently lands on the main LMS search page where the user still has to select the type of search they want.  REC proposed that the URL be changed to something with words instead of letters such as and that the URL redirects to the LMS page that has the entry blanks to enter a call sign to make a search.   REC is also seeking clarification that the order suggests that LPFM new entrant and silent stations can use their own organization’s website and not “publicly accessible local” websites (such as city government or community bulletin boards).  REC supports LPFM applicants being able to use their own organization’s website and not be dependent on non-related sites.  REC also took the position supporting the ability for international broadcast stations (shortwave) to be permitted to use their own organization’s website instead of a “publicly accessible local” website to display notices.

While it is rare for REC to come in near-full agreement with the NAB, this is something that affects all commercial broadcasters from the mom-and-pop AM and FM stations  that has been in the family for three generations (yes, those still exist) to the corporate mega-owners.  REC hopes that it and the NAB can find some more common ground in the future.  REC is not just about LPFM local radio, we are about all small local radio.