FCC To Eliminate Anti-Duplication Rule for AM Stations

For the August 6, 2020 FCC Open Meeting, the FCC has released the draft circulation Order in MB Docket 19-310.   The FCC originally proposed to eliminate the anti-duplication rules for full-service FM and AM stations.   

Currently, §73.3556(a) of the rules states that no AM or FM station shall operate so as to devote more than 25 percent of its the total hours in its average broadcast week to programs that duplicant those of any station in the same service (AM or FM) which is commonly owned or has a time brokerage agreement if the principal community contours (predicted or mesured 5 mV/m groundwave for AM and the predicted 70 dBu city grade contour for FM stations) of the stations overlap and the overlap constitutes more than 50 percent of the principal community contour service area in each station.

On January 21, 2020, REC Networks filed comments in this proceeding.  REC went on record to support the ability for AM stations to duplicate programming as it will remove a barrier that could further the use and what many see as a potential transition to MA3 all-digital AM radio.  Allowing a commonly-owned AM station to simulcast on two stations where one is digital will allow for a transition of that station to a digital service.  REC did state that their support was limited to AM stations seeking to simulcast in digital.  REC had also proposed that in the event of such a simulcast, there should be a process to eventually sunset any AM cross-service translator as REC continues to view MA3 AM digital operation as a final revitalization.  On FM, REC opposed the elimination of the rule due to the fact that FM radio does not face the same challenges that AM radio does and that by permitting FM stations to overlap signals could lead to spectrum warehousing and would eliminate many opportunities for diversity in programming and ownership.  

The National Association of Broadcasters supported a full elimination of the rule while Common Frequency opposed eliminating the anti-duplication rule for either AM or FM.

In their determination, the FCC decided the duplication rule no longer serves its earlier intended reaons as it pertains to AM.  The FCC recognizes that AM stations face an increasing amount of interference and are more expensive to operate and that AM stations are financially struggling, especially in this time of pandemic.  The FCC states though, that the elimination of the duplication rule is not just limited to AM stations seeking to simulcast in digital but applies also if both stations are operating analog.  The FCC also rejected the concept of requiring a sunset of cross-service FM translators in the event that digital simulcast commences as suggested by REC.

On FM, the FCC agrees with REC that retaining the duplication rule ensures some basic level of diversity and protects against spectrum warehousing. In rejecting NAB's support for elimination of the rule for FM, the FCC stated that the persistent technical and economic challenges that AM broadcasters face and the potential benefits from facilitating digital broadcasting in the AM band do not apply to the FM service.  

As previously stated, REC supports the use of MA3 all-digital AM as a "final" revitalization for AM radio once the penetration of receivers has drastically improved however, such a transition must be done in a way that will not impact the national nighttime infrastructure as well as done in a way that will not prevent some rural areas from receiving emergency alerts as there is a large cache of analog AM receivers inside many emergency preparedness kits that people may posess in their homes.  As a final revitalization, REC supports the phasing out of cross-service FM translators by treating them as a temporary crutch while a more permanent solution for AM, MA3 digital, comes to market.  

In the August Meeting, the FCC will also consider ordering the elimination of a World War II era rule that regulates the provision of FM and TV tower sites to competing broadcasters.   The Commission is also expected to adopt procedures to auction off C-band spectrum, modify the Telecommunications Relay Services rules for the deaf and disabled by eliminating equal access (choice of long distance carrier) requirements, removing the requirement that TRS providers offer collect, calling card and third party billing services and eliminate the publication of TRS state certification programs in the Federal Register as these are already published in EDOCS/Daily Digest.  Finally, the FCC will also tackle the issue of inmate calling services by responding to a directive by the DC Circuit Court to determine if certain additional fees can be segregated into intrastate and interstate components.  The FCC is proposing to adopt a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which will lower the per minute rate for inmate calls by about 33% and to propose new rate caps for international inmate calls.