On May 18, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission proposed to eliminate the rule requiring radio and television broadcasters to maintain a main studio located at or near a station’s community of license.  The Commission proposed the repeal of the rule on the grounds that the ubiquity of electronic communications eliminated the necessity of a studio’s physical presence to ensure adequate communication and cooperation between a broadcaster and the community it represents.  While all three Commissioners agreed to adopt the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing the elimination of the main studio rule, Commissioner Clyburn expressed serious reservations about the effects of eliminating the rule on relations between broadcasters and the communities they serve.

The Commission also proposed the elimination of several regulations ancillary to the main studio rule itself, including:  (1) the requirement that a main studio have a “meaningful management and staff presence” to fulfill the main studio’s function; (2) the requirement that a broadcaster ensure that its main studio has “continuous program transmission capability”; (3) informal application requirements for relocating a main studio; (4) FM station studio location requirements within a station’s principal community contours; and (5) permissive changes to a studio’s location.  The Commission justified the elimination of these regulations on the grounds that they would be rendered meaningless by the absence of the main studio rule.  However, the Commission proposed to retain the requirement that broadcasters maintain either a local or toll-free telephone number for their stations in order to ensure that community members continue to have access to their local broadcast stations.

By issuing a NPRM, the Commission has invited public comment on its proposal to eliminate the main studio rule and its associated regulations.  The Commission is particularly concerned with the costs faced by broadcasters in compliance with the rules, and whether the purpose and effect of Section 307(b) of the Communications Act – which requires that the FCC distribute broadcast stations and licenses in a manner that is “fair, efficient, and equitable” – could still be fulfilled following the elimination of the rules.  Finally, the Commission has requested comment on whether physical access to a station’s public inspection file (for stations that continue to maintain parts of their files in physical form) must be ensured through other means – such as placing the file in a local library – following the repeal of the rules.

Comments and Reply Comments on the proposed elimination of the main studio rule and its associated regulations will be due thirty and forty-five days, respectively, after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register.

Please contact Dan Kirkpatrick at (703) 812-0432 or Keenan Adamchak at (703) 812-0415 if you would like to submit a comment in the main studio rule elimination proceeding, or have any questions regarding the potential changes to your station’s compliance obligations as a result of the proceeding.