On May 18, 2009, the FCC released a Notice of Inquiry seeking comment on issues raised by Arbitron's use of the portable people meter (PPM) to measure radio audiences. Until recently, Arbitron had relied on a diary-based audience measurement system. Under this diary system, participants kept a written record of the stations they listened to each day. PPM has replaced the diary system in 14 major radio markets. Now, participants simply carry PPM devices, which detect inaudible identification codes embedded in broadcasters' programming. The devices relay the codes to Arbitron and convey information about the stations that participants listened to throughout the day.

The PPM Coalition—a coalition of national media organizations, including National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, the Spanish Radio Association and the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council—lists several criticisms of the PPM system in its petition for the Commission's inquiry. The PPM Coalition's main assertion is that the samples fail to capture cell-phone-only households because the sampling method is based on landline telephone numbers instead of street addresses. According to the PPM Coalition, "a significant growing percentage" of Hispanics and African-Americans live in cell-phone-only households.

The Commission is particularly interested in receiving comments on whether and to what extent it has authority to take action with respect to Arbitron's methods. The Commission notes that it uses the market definitions created by Arbitron in its ownership rules. PPM critics argue that the Commission has the authority to "seek information about the validity and accuracy of Arbitron's ratings data that may potentially affect the formulation of the Commission's own rules and regulations." The Commission asks whether this is enough of a basis to take action and what action it should take. Lastly, the Commission suggests that the transmission of encoded broadcast signals to Arbitron's PPM may provide further basis for its jurisdiction, and asks for statutory provisions that would justify this argument.

Comments are due by July 1, 2009, and reply comments are due by July 31, 2009.

The Commission's Notice of Inquiry is available here.