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FCC rule changes could lead to even less media coverage of rural areas

Aug 2, 2017

As if rural communities aren’t already underserved by media outlets, University of Virginia Professor Christopher Ali says the problem will likely get worse in the future.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering loosening some of the oldest regulations on broadcasters: the Main Studio Rule and the UHF discount.

Ali says the cumulative effect of getting rid of those innocuously-named broadcast regulations could inspire broadcast networks to downsize the number of smaller stations, which tend to make less money.

“They’re not going to pull the stations from Detroit. Detroit makes a lot of money,” Ali said. “What they’re going to do is start chipping away at stations in [small] local communities. That could mean fewer jobs, less local reflection, and fewer stories being told about those communities.”

Ali says the main studio rule goes back to the 1930s. Originally, a radio station's main studio had to be located within the major business center of the community. The idea was that stations would serve local communities and be accessible to residents, while also encouraging local talent.

But Ali says as the FCC loosened the definition of the Main Studio Rule in the 1980s and 90s. Slowly, stations started moving further away from the communities they covered.

“And suddenly we saw the idea that, ‘If we own two stations that are somewhat in neighboring communities, maybe we can get away with having one station serving two communities,” Ali said.

The FCC is now considering getting rid of the Main Studio Rule entirely. It's also considering changing the UHF Discount Rule, a technically-complex piece of broadcasting regulations.

Ali says Americans still love local news, particularly morning TV news. He’s concerned about the cumulative cultural impact if these proposed rule changes go into effect.

“We start losing these local voices, these local stories that may not matter in New York, or even Detroit. But it certainly matters to the folks in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and [those stories] are valid and are worthy and need to be told,” Ali said.

Listen to the entire conversation with University of Virginia Professor Christopher Ali above.

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