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ZoneCasting Technology Harms Local Radio and Diverse Communities
A service known as "ZoneCasting" would allow FM radio stations to target advertisements and other messages to air only in certain neighborhoods. The company that licenses this new technology - GeoBroadcast Solutions (GBS) - is lobbying the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow its use, claiming this will benefit radio.
However, nearly all radio stations and the National Association of Broadcasters vehemently oppose the approval of ZoneCasting because it would threaten radio listeners' access to timely news and information about emergencies, shift advertising away from less affluent communities and limit information in diverse areas, and destabilize radio's advertising-based business model.
Radio's unparalleled reach across local markets keeps listeners informed, safe and connected - particularly in the diverse communities they serve. GBS is pressing the FCC to approve a policy that would undermine local radio by splintering broadcast service within markets across the country. Here's why the vast majority of local radio stations strongly oppose GBS's proposal:
It could limit access to emergency information. Both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and broadcasters have serious concerns about ZoneCasting's impact on the broad dissemination of emergency news and information. Local radio stations provide a lifeline for our communities - but if emergency information is aired only in parts of a market, listeners may lose access to updates, particularly if they are traveling by car, and may unknowingly head into an emergency-stricken area. Most radio listening occurs while listeners are driving, and thus may traverse across various "zones" in a market daily.
It will divert information from less affluent neighborhoods. ZoneCasting will encourage ad buyers to target ads to more affluent parts of a radio market, diverting information from less affluent parts, which could result in discriminatory practices. Broadcasters will have no meaningful recourse against ad buyers seeking such arrangements.
It will upend the advertising market. Many radio stations rely primarily on advertising revenue to support their operations. ZoneCasting will cause advertising rates to plummet, as ad buyers leverage the availability of cheaper, targeted ads to demand lower rates across the board, including on stations choosing not to deploy ZoneCasting.
It particularly hurts small and minority-owned stations. These stations would be particularly vulnerable, which is why a coalition of minority and women-owned companies strongly oppose ZoneCasting, including the nation's largest Black-owned radio group.
It will cause interference for radio listeners. ZoneCasting will cause interference for listeners in cars as reception of a station's signal transitions from the station's main antenna to the zoned signal from a booster. This will lead to a poor listening experience, listener confusion and frustration, and lead some to switch to a competing source for audio.
Despite this, certain automakers have removed AM radio as a feature on electric vehicles and signaled that they may remove AM radio from new models of internal combustion engine vehicles in the future.2
The bottom line:
The FCC should reject GBS's request to allow ZoneCasting, which threatens local radio stations' ability to provide emergency news and information, their financial viability and signal quality and will result in the inequitable treatment of listeners.