A company called GeoBroadcast Solutions, LLC, has filed a petition for rulemaking with the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), to allow FM radio stations to operate on-channel boosters that do not entirely duplicate the content of the main station. The idea is to allow each booster to insert local content intended for just the portion of the main station’s service area where the booster is located. In effect, FM radio stations would be able to establish single-frequency networks of the type that advocates of the new “NextGen” ATSC 3.0 technology say will soon enable targeted television broadcasting.
While broadcasters have long noted that wide-area dissemination of advertising is an important way to reach prospective customers, broadcast stations have nevertheless lost a significant amount of advertising to targeted streaming and messaging services that tailor messages to narrow segments of the public. The GeoBroadcast Solutions technology is intended to allow FM radio stations to offer both kinds of advertising, both wide-area and narrowly targeted content, although targeting will be based on only geographic location and not other factors.
According to GeoBroadcast Solutions’ rulemaking petition, the technology can be used with both analog and digital FM broadcasting, so stations would not have to install “HD” transmitters to participate. The petition does not ask for any change in the current rule that requires the signal of a booster to be contained completely within the signal contour of the parent station.
The proposal appears to offer a significant opportunity for enhancing radio broadcasting service. In evaluating the proposal, however, broadcasters should consider whether they think it will work technically without causing interference to the primary station, what the costs would be (taking into account GeoBroadcast Solutions’ patent rights), and whether any benefits from being able to offer geographically targeted content would be sufficient to recoup implementation and operational costs.
The FCC has invited comments on the rulemaking petition, which are due May 4, 2020.