On April 2, 2024, the FCC released a Report and Order (the “Order”) and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (the “Further Notice”) approving a rule change on a bipartisan, unanimous basis to allow radio broadcasters to use FM boosters to direct hyper-local programming for a portion of each hour at specific geographic areas rather than to do what radio stations have done for a century, which is sending the same broadcast stream over the entire market.  Prior to the rule change, radio stations could only use FM boosters to retransmit the main signal to areas not well covered by the primary antenna. 

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks underscored the innovation this rule change will enable, explaining, “[i]t’s about time we gave these broadcasters – on a voluntary basis – the opportunity to try out their plans.  What they have in mind no doubt presents a fresh way of thinking about FM.”  Commissioner Brendan Carr similarly celebrated that “the Order immediately opens up new opportunities for all FM radio broadcasters which operate in an intensely competitive media environment.”  Small business advocates and civil rights leaders also voiced support for the change.  The rule change was initiated by a Petition for Rulemaking filed by GeoBroadcast Solutions (GBS) with Covington’s support in March of 2020.

The Order

The Order creates a new category of boosters used to originate content, “Program Originating FM Booster Stations,” which are allowed to originate content for three minutes each hour.  The Commission determined that using boosters in this way would be in the public interest and would not create significant interference issues.  The Commission dismissed concerns about the competitive effect of program originating boosters and concluded that extensive testing conducted by GBS demonstrated limited risk of signal interference.  While some collateral decisions are left to be resolved in the Further Notice, the Commission adopted an interim process allowing FM broadcasters to begin deploying this technology when the Order becomes effective thirty days after publication in the Federal Register.  Under this interim process, program originating boosters will be licensed for one year, with a presumption of renewal, and broadcasters can apply for up to twenty-five boosters.

The Further Notice

The Further Notice seeks comment on some related issues and possible rule changes as the Commission establishes permanent licensing for Program Originating Boosters, including questions regarding broadcast political files, notice obligations, patent issues, emergency alert system processes, and similar issues.  Comments addressing these topics will be due thirty days after the date the Further Notice is published in the Federal Register and reply comments will be due thirty days thereafter.

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Photo of Gerard J. Waldron Gerard J. Waldron

Gerry Waldron represents communications, media, and technology clients before the Federal Communications Commission and Congress, and in commercial transactions. Gerry served as chair of the firm’s Communications and Media Practice Group from 1998 to 2008. Prior to joining Covington, Gerry served as the…

Gerry Waldron represents communications, media, and technology clients before the Federal Communications Commission and Congress, and in commercial transactions. Gerry served as chair of the firm’s Communications and Media Practice Group from 1998 to 2008. Prior to joining Covington, Gerry served as the senior counsel on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications. During his work for Congress, he was deeply involved in the drafting of the 1993 Spectrum Auction legislation, the 1992 Cable Act, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), CALEA, and key provisions that became part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Gerry’s practice includes working closely on strategic and regulatory issues with leading IT companies, high-quality content providers in the broadcasting and sports industries, telephone and cable companies on FCC proceedings, spectrum entrepreneurs, purchasers of telecommunications services, and companies across an array of industries facing privacy, TCPA and online content, gaming, and online gambling and sports betting-related issues.

Gerry has testified on communications and Internet issues before the FCC, U.S. House of Representatives Energy & Commerce Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, the Maryland Public Utility Commission, and the Nevada Gaming Commission.

Photo of John Cobb John Cobb

John Cobb is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Technology and Communications Regulation Practice Group. Prior to joining Covington, John served as the Legal Advisor to the FCC’s Broadband Data Task Force where he provided legal…

John Cobb is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Technology and Communications Regulation Practice Group. Prior to joining Covington, John served as the Legal Advisor to the FCC’s Broadband Data Task Force where he provided legal guidance to the Task Force on matters related to implementation of the Broadband DATA Act and the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection. Before that, John served as an Honors Attorney in the Policy Division of the FCC’s Media Bureau where he worked on matters affecting the media industry, including multiple administrative rulemakings in the Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative.

Photo of Conor Kane Conor Kane

Conor Kane advises clients on a broad range of privacy, artificial intelligence, telecommunications, and emerging technology matters. He assists clients with complying with state privacy laws, developing AI governance structures, and engaging with the Federal Communications Commission.

Before joining Covington, Conor worked in…

Conor Kane advises clients on a broad range of privacy, artificial intelligence, telecommunications, and emerging technology matters. He assists clients with complying with state privacy laws, developing AI governance structures, and engaging with the Federal Communications Commission.

Before joining Covington, Conor worked in digital advertising helping teams develop large consumer data collection and analytics platforms. He uses this experience to advise clients on matters related to digital advertising and advertising technology.