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Maricopa County Community College District

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Released: May 15, 2014
Federal Communications Commission
Washington, D.C. 20554

May 15, 2014

DA 14-661

In Reply Refer To:
1800B3-HS
Released: May 15, 2014
Ernest T. Sanchez, Esq.
1155 F Street, N.W.
Suite 1050
Washington, DC 20004
In re:

Maricopa County Community

College District

Request for Experimental Authority
To Relax Standards For Public Radio
Underwriter Announcements

Dear Counsel:
We have before us the above-referenced March 18, 2013, “Request for Experimental Authority
To Relax Standards For Public Radio Underwriter Announcements” (“Request”) filed by Maricopa
County Community College District (“Maricopa”). Maricopa is the licensee or joint licensee of two
noncommercial educational (“NCE”) stations,1 and seeks temporary experimental authority to test a
“loosening of the Commission’s enhanced underwriting policies,”2 or alternatively, a waiver of the
Commission’s underwriting Rules and policies.3

Background

. In the Request, Maricopa requests that the Stations be allowed conduct a
temporary three year experiment that would allow the Stations to enhance their underwriting
announcements in the following ways: (1) provide “[f]actually accurate information concerning interest
rates” available at local businesses, including underwriter banks, credit unions, automobile dealerships;
(2) notify listeners of underwriter sales or special events; and (3) include qualitative adjectives in
underwriting announcements, “particularly where the adjectives have a logogram quality that is factually
based, such as ‘certified,’ ‘accredited,’ ‘award-winning,’ ‘experienced,’ or ‘long-established,’” including
publicly-determined rankings.4 Maricopa explains the purpose of this demonstration is to “test the
effects, if any, on listener satisfaction, program quality, and station revenue which might result from such
a limited relaxation” of the Commission’s underwriting requirements.5

1 Maricopa is the licensee of KJZZ(FM), Phoenix, Arizona and joint licensee of KBAQ(FM), Phoenix, Arizona (the
“Stations”).
2 Request at 2.
3 Request at 3.
4 Request at 2.
5 Id.

Discussion.

An applicant seeking waiver of a Rule has the burden to plead with particularity the
facts and circumstances that warrant such action.6 Thus, an applicant for waiver “faces a high hurdle even
at the starting gate.”7 Although the Commission must consider carefully all waiver requests, such
requests must be supported by a compelling showing in order to be granted.8 Waiver is appropriate only
if both (1) special circumstances warrant a deviation from the general rule, and (2) such deviation better
serves the public interest.9
In creating an NCE service the Commission has sought to remove the programming decisions of
public broadcasters from the “normal kinds of commercial market pressures under which broadcasters in
the unreserved spectrum usually operate.”10 In order to maintain the essential character of the
noncommercial service, Section 399B of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended,11 Sections
73.503(d) and 73.621(e) of the Commission’s Rules,12 and the Commission’s subsequent policies,13
specifically proscribe the broadcast of announcements by public broadcast stations which promote the
sale of goods and services of for-profit entities in return for consideration paid to the stations.
We will deny the Request for several reasons. First, as Maricopa recognizes, it does not meet the
basic qualifications of an experimental authorization, as the waiver does not seek to “conduct technical
experimentation directed toward improvement of the technical phases of operation and service. . . .”14

6 See Columbia Communications Corp. v. FCC, 832.F.2d 189, 192 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (citing Rio Grande Family
Radio Fellowship, Inc. v. FCC
, 406 F.2d 644, 666 (D.C. Cir. 1968)).
7 See WAIT Radio v. FCC, 418 F.2d 1153, 1157 (D.C. Cir. 1969), aff'd, 459 F.2d 1203 (1972), cert. denied, 93 S.Ct.
461 (1972) (“WAIT Radio”) (finding that the Commission may decide in some instances that rule waiver serves the
public interest if an applicant's proposal will not undermine the policy served by the rule). See also Thomas Radio v.
FCC,
716 F.2d 921, 924 (D.C. Cir. 1983).
8 Greater Media Radio Co., Inc., Memorandum Opinion and Order, 15 FCC Rcd 7090 (1999) (citing Stoner
Broadcasting System, Inc.
, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 49 FCC 2d 1011, 1012 (1974)).
9 See NetworkIP, LLC v. FCC, 548 F.3d 116, 125-128 (D.C. Cir. 2008); Northeast Cellular Telephone Co. v. FCC,
897 F.2d 1164, 1166 (D.C. Cir. 1990); WAIT Radio, 418 F.2d at 1159.
10 Commission Policy Concerning the Noncommercial Nature of Educational Broadcasting Stations, Second Report
and Order, 86 FCC 2d 141, 142 (1981).
11 47 U.S.C. § 399B, which states, in relevant part, that “No public broadcast station may make its facilities available
to any person for the broadcasting of any advertisement.”
12 47 C.F.R. §§ 73.503(d); 73.621(e), which state that “No promotional announcement on behalf of for profit entities
shall be broadcast at any time in exchange for the receipt, in whole or in part, of consideration to the licensee, its
principals, or employees” (emphasis in original).
13 See Commission Policy Concerning the Noncommercial Nature of Educational Broadcasting Stations, Public
Notice, 7 FCC Rcd 827 (1992); Commission Policy Concerning the Noncommercial Nature of Educational
Broadcasting Stations
, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 97 FCC 2d 255 (1984); Commission Policy Regarding the
Noncommercial Nature of Educational Broadcast Stations
, Memorandum Opinion and Order, 90 FCC 2d 895
(1982); Commission Policy Regarding the Noncommercial Nature of Educational Broadcast Stations, Second
Report and Order, 86 FCC 2d 141 (1981); Commission Policy Concerning the Noncommercial Nature of
Educational Broadcast Stations
, First Report and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 69 FCC 2d 200 (1978).
14 47 C.F.R. § 5.203, which was codified as 47 C.F.R. § 73.1510 at the time of Maricopa’s filing. We also deny
Maricopa’s request that we waive the technical requirements of this provision, finding that such a waiver would
eviscerate the purpose of the Rule, unlike the waiver granted in International Expo Information Broadcast, 89 FCC
2d 1374 (1982). See Request at 2-3.
2

Second, we also deny Maricopa’s alternative request that we waive Sections 73.503 and 73.621
of the Commission’s Rules, and the Commission’s underwriting policies.15 Permitting Maricopa to
enhance their underwriting announcements would undermine the statutory and regulatory purposes in
authorizing NCE stations – that is, to encourage the development of a public broadcasting system that is
free from extraneous influence and control. The manner in which the Commission currently permits
donor and underwriter acknowledgements was established to balance the financial needs of public
broadcasting stations and their obligation to provide a noncommercial service. We believe that the public
interest is better served by requiring strict adherence to the underwriting Rules and policies.
Further, Maricopa’s stated purposes for the waiver – to adopt measures to address the economic
challenges due to decreased funding from federal and state sources and the prolonged economic
recovery16 - while laudatory, are not so unique and unusual in itself as to warrant a waiver of the
underwriting Rules and policies. Many NCE licensees face similar circumstances and Maricopa fails to
identify any special circumstances that distinguish it from all other NCE licensees. If Maricopa wishes to
petition for a change in the rule, the appropriate vehicle would be a petition for rulemaking, not a waiver
request. 17
Accordingly, the March 18, 2013, “Request for Experimental Authority To Relax Standards For
Public Radio Underwriter Announcements” filed by Maricopa County Community College District, IS
DENIED.
Sincerely,
Peter H. Doyle
Chief, Audio Division
Media Bureau

15 47 C.F.R. §§ 73.503; 73.621; Request at 3.
16 Request at 8.
17 In reaching the merits of Maricopa's waiver request, we do not prejudge the outcome of any future petition for
rulemaking. Any such petition would be addressed separately, and subject to the outcome of any broader
proceeding that the Commission may choose to undertake with respect to such a rulemaking petition.
3

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