FCC commissioners will hold a public inquiry into the commercial use of the PPM technology and "its potential impact on audience ratings of stations that air programming targeted to minority audiences, and consequently, on the financial viability of those stations."

The FCC action comes after minority groups, both the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB) and the Spanish Radio Association, asserted to the federal government that they were concerned that the new meters were dramatically undercounting their targeted audiences. "Because audience ratings affect advertising revenues, undercounting minority audiences could negatively affect the ability of these stations to compete for advertising revenues and to continue to offer local service to minority audiences," observed the FCC in its announcement on Monday morning (May 18).

The notice of inquiry, as the official statement characterizes it, will investigate the impact of PPM methodology on the broadcast industry as well as whether the audience ratings data is sufficiently accurate and reliable to merit the Commission's own reliance on its rules, policies and procedures, the agency said.

Arbitron has advertised the recently launched PPM methodology as a technological improvement in measuring radio listening, which, according to the FCC, the agency has "a strong interest in encouraging innovative advancements that lead to improved information and data. We seek information on whether and how the PPM technological changes adversely affect diversity on the airwaves as well as the integrity and reliability of the Commission's processes that rely on Arbitron ratings data." The FCC said that if there is an adverse impact, "We seek comment on further steps the Commission can and should take to address these issues."

The FCC is particularly concerned about PPM having a detrimental and discriminatory affect upon stations targeting minorities, coupled with its long stated mission of promoting and increasing diversity among the nation's broadcasters.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein called for the Commission to conduct an inquiry into Arbitron's PPM during the FCC's monthly meeting on April 8. The public request came after the Commission's decision-makers and staff had held numerous meetings with Arbitron executives several over the past several months. Arbitron had just received the 21-page FCC document announcing the inquiry and spokesman Thom Mocarsky declined comment until the papers could be reviewed.

The initial complaints to the FCC were made by Jim Winston, a veteran Washington, D.C., communications lawyer and executive director of NABOB, and led to the FCC's inquiry. Winston could not be reached immediately -- the group is currently holding its 33rd annual Spring Broadcast Management Conference through Wednesday at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Spa in St. Maarten.