Tepid Response to ZoneCasting's Petition for Rulemaking

A proposal by Geo Broadcast Solutions to use FM booster stations to originate programming in a networked configuration attracted a paltry dozen comments to the FCC. None of the country’s major commercial or noncommercial broadcasters filed their thoughts on “ZoneCasting,” although those who did comment unanimously supported the idea and urged regulators to move forward with a rulemaking proceeding to allow this radical new use of boosters.
Harris Corporation, which recently placed its broadcast equipment division up for sale, told the FCC that it’s been working with Geo Broadcast on the technical aspects of ZoneCasting and called the proposal “a novel use of FM boosters, likely unforeseen when the service was established in 1970.” Harris believes program origination on boosters “would advance the public interest and can be implemented in a manner that does not cause harmful interference with other stations.”
Alta Communications, a private equity firm with stakes in broadcasters such as Radio One and Telemundo, commented that ZoneCasting would “open up radio advertising to a larger audience of potential advertisers. This would have a positive impact on the radio industry which has been struggling over the past several years.” This message was (literally) repeated by other investors and business owners that dabble in broadcasting. A couple of local business owners from around the country also commented that they supported ZoneCasting for the opportunity it would provide for them to advertise on radio.
The proposal also attracted some curious supporting constituencies, such as the National Association of Black Elected Legislative Women, National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, and the National Association of Black County Officials, who all suggested that the hyper-local targeting of advertising will open up the airwaves to the commercial messages of minority-owned businesses, many of whom can’t afford the current rates for spots.
Only one commenter – a Texas law firm which “has provided a small amount of corporate legal services to Geo Broadcast and its partners,” strayed from this message, suggesting instead that ZoneCasting would be most useful for providing targeted public safety information during emergencies, such as severe weather.
It’s anyone’s guess whether the FCC will formalize a rulemaking proceeding to authorize ZoneCasting. Given that there was no opposition to the initial proposal, there’s no compelling reason for regulators to tank it. However, the lack of industry passion for the idea suggests that it’s not going to be a high-priority process.