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FCC probe of Arbitron Portable People Meter is over

The Federal Communications Commission has called off its investigation of Arbitron’s controversial Portable People Meter. The PPM gadget replaced Arbitron’s old diary system, in which users jotted down their radio preferences. Instead they wear PPM’s like pagers, which listen to the signals in the consumer’s immediate vicinity.

A group of minority media advocates, the PPM Coalition, had charged that the PPM’s sampling methodology included too few minority radio fans and that Arbitron recruited an insufficient number of cell phone only households for the device (which are often minority households). Arbitron pushed back that the PPM is much more accurate than the old diary system. Even pop legend Stevie Wonder got into the debate.

But it appears that Arbitron and its critics have settled the issue. The PPM Coalition recently filed a request with the FCC asking that the investigation end:

In its Withdrawal Request, PPMC states that under the leadership of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, it worked with Arbitron and the Media Rating Council to implement a series of steps designed to enhance the recruitment methodology of the PPM ratings service, including the addition of address-based sampling with targeted in-person recruiting to increase PPM panelist participation in key market segments. Based on months of study and negotiations in finding ways to improve the PPM methodology, on April 21, 2010, PPMC and Arbitron “agreed on a plan that presents a framework to address the Coalition’s concerns.” Thus, based upon the progress that has been made to date, PPMC asserts that no further investigation by the Commission is warranted. In addition, pursuant to the April 2010 Action Plan, the Diversity Committee withdrew its request for a Commission investigation into the use of PPMs. In light of the agreement reached between the parties in the Action Plan and the withdrawal of the Diversity Committee’s request, we hereby grant the Withdrawal Request and terminate the proceeding without further action or decision on the merits.

The PPM is now used in 14 markets: Atlanta; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Kansas City; Milwaukee-Racine; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Portland, OR; Salt Lake City-Ogden-Provo; St. Louis and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater; Houston-Galveston; Minneapolis-St. Paul and Riverside-San Bernardino. More information about the device here.

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