FCC Wheeler

FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler today pledged to broadcasters that he will bring the AM revitalization proceeding to a vote “in the coming weeks.” In a speech at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, he also said he still believes FM translators are part of the solution for AMs despite moving away from an AM-only filing window that had been advocated by many broadcasters. “I also intend to address how FM translators can be used to benefit not just some licensees, but all licensees, including new licensees, and how that fits with our statutory mandate to localism and diversity of voices,” he told the crowd.

Wheeler noted the AM effort has bipartisan support on the Commission, as does a push to relax foreign ownership limits on radio and television. The agency already approved a mechanism for owners to get past the 25% cap in place since the 1930s on a case-by-case basis, and Wheeler said he agrees with Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly that the FCC should look at lifted the limit once and for all.

“Benefits including additional inbound investment possibilities and potential reciprocal treatment in our foreign trade and investment activities,” Wheeler said. “There are important details that will need to be considered, including how to make appropriate allowance for any national security issues that might arise.” Even so, the chairman said he’s optimistic the agency will be able to find a way to clear those hurdles.

Broadcasters have expressed more concern about Wheeler’s plan to darken two-thirds of the FCC’s field offices and he told the NAB Show he sees it as a way to better allocate resources and bring “simple business management concepts” to the government. To critics, he said their objections were akin to fighting to “maintain the inefficiencies” at the FCC. “I recognize your concern that we may somehow be signaling a decrease in our interference protection, pirate radio enforcement, or other activities important to broadcasters,” he said. “Let me assure you that is not the case and we want to work with you to make sure that broadcasters are fully protected.”

He took the stage in Las Vegas just a day after the latest pirate radio fine was released, with the FCC proposing a $20,000 fine against a New York pirate that found a new site for his unlicensed station rather than power-down after receiving warnings from field agents. By closing down some of the quieter offices Wheeler said they’ll be able to put more Enforcement Bureau staff in cities like New York and Miami where pirate radio problems persist. “There will be more boots on the ground in the areas of greatest challenge,” Wheeler pledged.