No, school bus drivers were not playing Pink Floyd’s classic Another Brick in the Wall (We Don’t Need No Education) just in time for the first day of school. Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Report to Congress evaluating the commercial proposals for distributing radio and television programs aboard school buses. The FCC found that local authorities should decide whether carrying broadcasts on school buses is appropriate, despite the concerns that parents, teachers, transportation authorities and others voiced on the docket (MB Docket No. 09-68). The Report, mandated by the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, focuses on BusRadio, a service that’s long been controversial among some members of Congress. The service reaches 1 million children and carries music, ads and promotional programming, the Report said.
Opponents to BusRadio’s programming alleged that the service presents a variety of health/safety concerns. Namely, the increased background noise could cause children to miss the bus driver’s safety instructions, and BusRadio’s contest programming encourages bus drivers to place telephone calls while driving in order to win prizes. The concerns did not stop there. Opponents also alleged that BusRadio violates children’s programming restrictions adopted by the FCC and the Council of Better Business Bureau’s Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU). These groups argued that BusRadio engaged in host selling and failed to properly disclose promotional advertisements, among other items.
Ultimately, while the Report suggested several voluntary ways the company could improve, it found that the FCC had no jurisdiction to regulate the content of BusRadio. “BusRadio holds no broadcast licenses and thus is not subject to our broadcast regulations,” the Report said. Thus, the FCC shifted responsibility to police on-bus broadcasting to school districts that carry the service. Opponents are concerned that school districts are “interested parties” that will be less willing to regulate content on-board school buses because of the freebee safety services that the companies provide. For example, all of BusRadio’s receiver units contain GPS devices and cellular modems that can help parents track the location of their child. Given the concerns already voiced by parents’ groups in the trade press, we are likely to hear more on this issue before other venues. Stay tuned.