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Congress will hold hearing on Arbitron Portable People meter

Edolphus Towns still on the warpath over the  PPM

It looks like Arbitron’s controversial Portable People Meter is still in hot water with the government. The  device, which measures user listening habits sans a written diary,  is scheduled to be the subject of a hearing by the House  Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday,  December 2. This is the committees’ second investigation of the controversial gadget.

“With an unprecedented decline in ratings among popular minority television and radio stations, we must explore the possibility of methodological flaws in the implementation of the PPM,” declared its Chair Edolphus Towns (D-NY, called “ET” by his staff, we’re told).  “As it stands now, the current system jeopardizes the future of minority broadcasting.”

The Portable People Meter is worn by the participant, sort of like a pager. It picks up radio signals around the user and keeps track of the stations to which he or she is listening. Critics of the PPM says its sampling methodology includes too few minority radio fans and that Arbitron recruits an insufficient number of cell phone only households for the device (which are often minority households). Arbitron responds that the  PPM is much more accurate than the old  diary system.

PPM opponents, among them many of the nation’s civil rights groups and minority broadcasting associations (and Stevie Wonder), asked the Federal Communications Commission for a formal investigation of the device, but  the agency offered only a notice of inquiry. Three states have required improvements in the PPM, among them New Jersey. New York, and Maryland.

Anyway, tough talk coming from Towns about this issue:  “I remain deeply concerned that increased use of the PPM may unfairly threaten the financial viability of minority targeted radio stations whose advertising revenues depend on the size of their rated audience.  In addition, there is a serious risk that certain groups of minority listeners will continue to be undercounted, imperiling minority audience radio stations and decreasing the diversity of opinions in radio broadcasting.”

It’s all music to the ears of Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership, which sent us a  statement on the news. “Arbitron’s PPM system is harming a critical medium that has played a transformative role in the social, political, and economic development of communities of color,” said HTTP’s Sylvia Aguilera. “HTTP calls on Arbitron to use this hearing as an opportunity to correct its flawed PPM methodology and begin engaging in responsible business practices.”

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