Community of license

In American, Canadian and Philippine broadcasting, a city of license or community of license is the community that a radio station or television station is officially licensed to serve by that country's broadcast regulator.

In North American broadcast law, the concept of community of license dates to the early days of AM radio broadcasting. The requirement that a broadcasting station operate a main studio within a prescribed distance of the community which the station is licensed to serve appears in U.S. law as early as 1939.[1]

Various specific obligations have been applied to broadcasters by governments to fulfill public policy objectives of broadcast localism, both in radio and later also in television, based on the legislative presumption that a broadcaster fills a similar role to that held by community newspaper publishers.

United States

In the United States, the Communications Act of 1934 requires that “the Commission shall make such distribution of licenses, frequencies, hours of operation, and of power among the several States and communities as to provide a fair, efficient, and equitable distribution of radio service to each of the same.”[2] The Federal Communications Commission interprets this as requiring that every broadcast station “be licensed to the principal community or other political subdivision which it primarily serves.”[3] For each broadcast service, the FCC defines a standard for what it means to serve a community; for example, commercial FM radio stations are required to provide an electric field of at least 3.16 millivolts per meter (mV/m) over the entire land area of the community,[4] whereas non-commercial educational FM stations need only provide a field strength of 1 mV/m over 50% of the community's population.[5] This electric field contour is called the “principal community contour”.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) makes other requirements on stations relative to their communities of license; these requirements have varied over time. One example is the requirement for stations to identify themselves, by call sign and community, at sign-on, sign-off, and at the top of every hour of operation.[6] Other current requirements include providing a local telephone number in the community's calling area (or else a toll-free number)[7] and (in most cases) maintaining an official main studio within 25 miles of the community's geographic center.[8]

Policy and regulatory issues

Nominal main studio requirements

The requirement that a station maintain a main studio within a station's primary coverage area or within a maximum distance of the community of license originated in an era in which stations were legally required to generate local content and the majority of a station's local, non-network programming was expected to originate in one central studio location. In this context, the view of broadcast regulators held that an expedient way to ensure that content broadcast reflected the needs of a local community was to allocate local broadcast stations and studios to each individual city.

The nominal main studio requirement has become less relevant with the introduction of attributable to the original sources. (April 2010)