Beware the FCC's New Big Tech Enrichment Plan | Opinion

Is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considering taking action to undermine conservative talk radio in a way that would make Facebook and Google's digital monopolies grow even bigger?

Former Trump adviser Andrew Surabian—in a piece recently promoted on social media by a who's who list of conservative influencers—indicated that it is.

The concern arises from a decade-old proposal, called zonecasting, which has sat on the FCC's desk since the Obama administration. The Democrat-led FCC now appears ready to formally decide on it later this year, and free speech advocates should pray the commission rejects this misguided proposal.

So, what is zonecasting?

It's a proposal that would, at least in the short term, give one company a complete monopoly over operational technology allowing radio advertisers to cut up radio media markets into smaller parts. With zonecasting, businesses, for example, could air different ads in Brooklyn than they would in the Bronx despite both currently being in the same media market.

Zonecasting is one of those proposals that may sound good from a soundbite perspective. Those who often get too caught up in theory (such as the unpragmatic "free trade at all costs" extremists who repeatedly struck President Donald Trump's ire) may think it is a great idea. But the side effects of zonecasting would be catastrophic, especially for the First Amendment.

When have monopolies ever worked out for conservatives or the public at large? Talk radio is the medium that first allowed conservatives to break into the Left's domination of the media landscape, so we should look at any government plan that would create a monopoly in this transformative industry with healthy and prudential skepticism.

FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: Jessica Rosenworcel, Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) testifies during a House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee hearing on March 31, 2022 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee held a hearing on oversight of the FCC. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Sean Hannity is doing just that. According to a post on his website, zonecasting would "potentially eliminat[e] certain types of programs—and perspectives—completely."

It's not hard to figure out why. The technology permits corporations to become increasingly selective about what parts of town their advertisements run in. That would inevitably drain radio station revenues. By taking less desirable areas directly out of their advertising plans, companies would suck millions of dollars out of the radio industry and put their savings right into their Facebook and Google advertising budgets.

What we have here is a proposal to create an artificial, government-sanctioned monopoly that would empower Big Tech to conservatives' detriment, limiting the sustainability of the talk radio programs that we hold dear. That doesn't sound conservative at all, but zonecasting's supporters aren't afraid to pretend it is. They claim the proposal will be great for stations that house conservative talk radio because the opportunity to tailor and customize commercials across town will permit broadcasters to, for the first time, compete with the "geotargeting" that rival advertisers Facebook and Twitter provide in the digital space.

This is simply not true. Advertisers flock to Facebook and Google not because they geotarget their ads, but because they allow for a one-to-one connection with users, and the advertiser can immediately see how the consumer responds—where they click, what they buy, and how they react. Zonecasting wouldn't resemble anything close to that. If it did, then most of the broadcast industry wouldn't have already lined up in opposition to the FCC proposal.

There is nothing "free market" about zonecasting. It would create a government-sanctioned monopoly that would make it impossible for most radio stations to continue making a profit. Its supporters deny this point because the technology is voluntary—broadcasters could simply choose not to use it. But the broadcast industry has told the FCC zonecasting is voluntary in name only. Once one broadcaster adopts the technology, it will lower the rates others in the market can charge for ads.

Talk radio is the lifeblood of the conservative movement. We can't allow anti-free market policies to kill it.

Before the advent of the center-right blogosphere and cable news circuit, talk radio (aside from a handful of conservative print magazines, such as The American Spectator, Human Events, and National Review) was the only platform Republicans had to get their voices heard. And even now, with new blogs and TV networks like Fox News and Newsmax, talk radio remains one of the most popular and trusted platforms out there.

Some are already working to rid the airwaves of conservative programming after the death of Rush Limbaugh. Taking action that would weaken this medium while enriching Big Tech platforms—the new wave of conservative media suppressors—would make things even worse. Those who know and value free speech and alternative perspectives cannot and must not allow this to happen.

Chris Salcedo is a veteran television and radio broadcaster who hosts the Chris Salcedo Show on Newsmax TV. The Chris Salcedo radio show can also be heard across the country on the AM 700 KSEV APP.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.