House panel approves Community Radio bill

Oct 15 UPDATE: The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the Local Community Radio Act on a voice vote; the bill is headed to the House floor.

On Oct. 7, the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet has voted 15-1 to approve the bipartisan Local Community Radio Act. Now the bill heads to a full committee vote. The long-awaited bill (see our op-ed from last fall) would finally allow the nationwide expansion of noncommercial, community-based Low Power FM (LPFM) stations, run by community groups, schools and religious organizations.

Prometheus Radio Project/Reclaim the Media statement:

Community Radio Triumphs over Big Broadcasters in Washington

Local Community Radio Act Sweeps House Subcommittee in 15 to 1 vote

The Local Community Radio Act (HR 1751) was approved by the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet this morning in a sweeping 15 to 1 vote. The Act would allow for the creation of hundreds of new, low power FM (LPFM) radio stations that would broadcast community news and local perspectives to neighborhoods across the country.

“All I can say is, it's about time,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), a co-sponsor of the bill. “It was absurd and ridiculous that broadcasters went to such great lengths to block the public from having some small measure of access to the airwaves, and disgraceful that we had to spend more two million dollars to prove what the FCC already had shown—that LPFM would not interfere with full power stations.”

"The Local Community Radio Act will make the airwaves truly public for millions of rural and urban Americans,” said Jonathan Lawson, Executive Director of Seattle-based Reclaim the Media, praising today's vote. "Once this bill becomes law, many communities that have been without local news, local music and local talk will have a new option: media by the people, for the people."

Big broadcasters have historically opposed the Local Community Radio Act, claiming that LPFM could cause interference to full power stations, a concern later disproved by a Congressionally mandated study. But with unanimous FCC support, strong bipartisan co-sponsorship, and grassroots momentum, even industry news is now predicting a win. “We do not expect that there is any stopping it at this point,” the Radio Business Report commented this morning.

“The bill still has a long way to go in the legislative process, but I am optimistic that by the end of the year the Local Community Radio Act will be signed into law,” said Congressman Doyle (D-PA), lead co-sponsor of the bill with Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE).

In the Northwest, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) has long been a backer of Low-Power community radio, and his support helped approve the bill in today's vote. But the bill also gained the support of Republicans including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Congress' only former broadcaster, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR). Other Representatives formerly opposed to LPFM but now supporting the bill include Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), a former lead co-sponsor of anti-LPFM legislation and ranking Republican on the subcommittee, and Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), who called for the study of LPFM interference in 2000.

“Today’s vote signals a policy shift towards more local and diverse media,” said Cory Fischer-Hoffman, Campaign Director for the Prometheus Radio Project. “We need to use this momentum to push for full passage of the Local Community Radio Act so groups working tirelessly to have a voice in their communities can start building stations.”

Hundreds of groups—including schools, churches, and emergency responders—were denied licenses in 2000 after Congress blocked the FCC from handing them out in crowded media markets.

Advocates point to the successes of existing low power FM stations to prove their value to communities. "Our station, Radio Movimiento, has been an important tool in our struggle for dignity, fair salaries, and respect for Oregon farmworkers," said Erubiel Valladares Carranza II, Co-Director & Technical engineer of KPCN-LP 95.9FM, in Woodburn, OR. “With the passage of the Local Community Radio Act, more farmworkers and other marginalized groups will be able to broadcast their voices and opinions over the airwaves."

"When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf, low power radio was the only source of emergency information in a number of counties. Residents in East Texas tuned their battery-operated radios to KZQX-LP while they waited a week for power to be restored," said Andalusia Knoll, Community Station Director at the Prometheus Radio Project.

Nancy Zirkin of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights added, "In an era of mass media consolidation, we in the civil rights community believe that it is critical to promote diverse ownership and diverse viewpoints over the public airwaves, and we look forward to the passage of this bill into law."

The Local Community Radio Act is now poised to move to the full Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by longtime LPFM supporter Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA).

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey