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Pai Sees October Vote by FCC on New AM Radio Rules

Thursday, August 14, 2014

By Brandon Ross

Aug. 13 — The Federal Communications Commission may finalize rules to help revitalize the struggling AM radio broadcast industry by the end of October, Commissioner Ajit Pai said Aug. 13.

In opening remarks at the Ohio Association of Broadcasters Town Hall meeting on revitalizing AM radio, Pai doubled-downed on his support for the commission's proposed rules to help reinvigorate the service, saying commenters “overwhelmingly” expressed support of the October 2013 FCC notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).

“I've been amazed how AM revitalization has struck a chord throughout the United States,” Pai said in his remarks.

The NPRM received the support of large and small broadcasters, civil rights organizations, diversity advocacy groups, and Democrats and Republicans alike, Pai said.

“Since 1949, AM has been the ‘heritage technology' for minority entry into media and telecom ownership,” David Honig, president of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg BNA. “These stations may be using old technology, but they're vital lifelines for underserved communities,” Honig said.

In his remarks, Pai focused on the commission's proposals to relax some rules regulating AM radio. These rules hadn't seen a real overhaul in decades, he said.

Pai also expressed his support for the FCC's consideration of new technologies to help AM radio down the line.

The October 2013 NPRM considers opening a filing window that would exclusively allow AM stations to license FM translator stations for broadcasting purposes.

“If we act soon, that window could open next year and give many stations much-needed relief,” Pai said in his remarks.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler‘s office declined to say if the NPRM would come to a vote this year, but the item received unanimous commissioner support before Wheeler become chairman.

Pai also said the “ratchet rule,” which sought to cut down on cross-station signal interference, should be eliminated.

The rule, which Pai said was perhaps “well intentioned,” has only served as a road block to AM stations trying to improve their service.

“I have consistently stressed the need to get rid of unnecessary regulations—of rules that have outlived whatever usefulness they once might have had,” Pai said Aug. 12 in unrelated remarks on the FCC sports-blackout rules.

Pai Offers Additional Proposals

The proposals outlined in the NPRM “aren't going be a panacea,” Pai said.

He offered three points for consideration in a future notice of proposed rulemaking. The additional issues include whether the FCC should lighten up on its skywave rules, whether the agency should “pave the way for synchronous transmission systems” and if AM stations should be allowed to voluntarily go all-digital, Pai said.

Skywave signals are night AM radio signals that travel exponentially farther than regular daytime signals. Some argue that skywave protection rules, which require AM stations to significantly reduce their signal strength at night while still maintaining certain coverage quotas, are a product of a different time that now only serve to prevent smaller AM stations from being able to provide night time service, Pai said.

“Others say that removing [them] would increase interference and decrease the audience of clear-channel stations," Pai said.

The use of synchronous transmission systems could allow AM broadcasters to improve reception, especially in densely populated urban areas, Pai said. He said he realized the technology may not be a "realistic option" for small stations, for the time being, but that it could be a "boon" for larger stations.

"I know that we're a long way from the point where all-digital will be the norm," Pai said in his Aug. 13 comments, noting that the test results are encouraging and going all-digital "could improve the listening experience on AM dial."

Pai previously told Bloomberg BNA that he considered the AM radio revitalization to be an important personal and professional issue.

“Commissioner Pai has been an outstanding advocate for AM radio and for minority ownership,” Honig said. “Since the day he took office, Commissioner Pai has been a leader in championing these important FCC policy goals.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at bross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

Pai's full remarks are online at: http://op.bna.com/der.nsf/r?Open=sbay-9mxrqx.

The Oct. 31, 2013, NPRM is online at: http://op.bna.com/der.nsf/r?Open=sbay-9mxrrt.

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