FCC Denies Experimental License for Relaxation of

Posted on November 26th, 2014 by

Nearly two years ago, a noncommercial radio licensee requested experimental authority for a limited relaxation of the FCC’s underwriting policies, which prohibit the promotion of for-profit entities on noncommercial stations. The Media Bureau’s Audio Division denied the request in May of this year, finding that experimental authorizations were reserved for technical phases of operation and service. It also denied an alternative request for a waiver of its policies, finding that doing so would undermine the statutory and regulatory purposes for noncommercial stations.

Not satisfied, the licensee challenged the decision to the full Commission. A few days ago, the Commissioners turned down the challenge, indicating that the Communications Act’s advertising prohibitions gave it no leeway and that any change would have to come from Congress.

We disagree with the FCC’s logic. While Congress has prohibited the broadcasting of advertising by NCE licensees, the FCC itself has – over 30+ years – slowly relaxed the definition of what constitutes advertising (or promotion of a for-profit for consideration) through a series of decisions interpreting language aired on NCE broadcast stations. The FCC’s position that it has no authority in this arena without Congressional action is a safe one in order to avoid ruling on the request, but it is inconsistent with the FCC’s past willingness to interpret specific language or practices as permissible in light of Congress’ prohibition. As only one example, years ago, the FCC deemed statements about a for-profit business’ longevity as being promotional, but later allowed them as non-promotional. In our humble opinion, the brave licensee asking for a limited relaxation of the FCC’s policies to allow such innocuous descriptive phrases like “accredited” or “experienced” should have received a warmer welcome, not a slammed door.