Attorneys Take Aim at FCC's Main Studio Rule

Say it is anachronistic and broadcasters have competitive reasons to serve communities

Telecom lawyers have petitioned the FCC to eliminate the rule that broadcasters have a main studio located in their community of license. 

The FCC initially adopted the in-market requirement to make sure viewers had easy access to their local station and its management. But the commission loosened the rule in 1987 during its Reagan-era broad deregulation of the industry, eliminating a related requirement that a station originated a minimum number of programming hours from such a studio, and further loosened it in 1998, allowing stations still more facilities flexibility. 

Then at the first meeting of FCC chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC eliminated the requirement that public files be physically housed in a main office—they can now be made available online only—by dropping the "last vestige" of that rule in January, the requirement that commercial broadcast stations retain copies of letters and emails from the public in their public inspection file.

Given those decisions and the changes in technology, said the Media, Telecom and Technology Group in a filing at the FCC, adopting their proposal to eliminate the so-called "main studio rule," would not affect the "bedrock obligation" to serve their communities but would be a recognition of the technological and economic reality "that stations can serve their communities while realizing substantial and necessary cost savings by maintaining fewer offices and smaller staff."

The group was filing for itself, but pointed out its clients were TV and radio stations impacted by the rule and its rescission. 

"The current Main Studio Rule should be repealed, as not only is it burdensome and inefficient, but it has come unmoored from its underlying policy rationales, and therefore no longer serves a valid public interest objective," they said.

According to one communications attorney source, broadcasters already employ creative ways to meet the letter of the requirement, getting a competitor to provide a home base or even looking to advertisers to supply a back-office to establish an in-market presence while operating the stations remotely—money and ingenuity better spent on the things that actually serve the public rather than maintaining a government required facade, he suggested.

The FCC’s 1998 rule relaxation permitted broadcasters to consolidate facilities. But while that was economical, it also proved a target for anti-consolidation activists. The pitch to end the mandated in-market facilities connection between broadcasters and their communities could draw similar pushback this time around.