The FCC will consider a proposal today to eliminate the so-called “Main Studio Rule,” which requires local TV and radio broadcasters to maintain studios in the communities where they are licensed. (Often, that means the place where their physical antenna is located.)
Doing away with the rule, which was established in 1940, would benefit the largest broadcasters, especially Sinclair, which is set to swallow Tribune Media to become even more of a behemoth. Critics of the proposal say it will accelerate the already destructive tendencies toward consolidation. Corporate giants like Sinclair, the No. 1 station owner with more than 200 stations across the country, have centralized many facets of their news operations, which can deprive some smaller markets of boots-on-the-ground local reporting.
Skeptics of the current laissez-faire tilt of the FCC under Republican chairman Ajit Pai, who has been assailed for being too friendly to corporate interests and for undermining net neutrality and other Obama-era policies, see this vote as fitting into that pattern.
The National Association of Broadcasters has filed comments in favor of the elimination of the rule. The move would “reduce regulatory burdens on broadcasters, resulting in cost savings and other efficiencies that will allow stations to better serve their audiences,” the trade group said. In 1940, when the rule took effect, only 39% of U.S. homes even had telephones. In the decades since, the NAB argued, viewers and listeners interact with stations electronically and digitally, making the place where the signal originates less important.
At the FCC’s meeting, the commission is also set to discuss the deployment of additional resources to help storm-ravaged Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.