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Low-power radio bill down to the wire in Senate
Submitted by jonathan on Thu, 2010-10-21 14:49
by Jennifer Martinez, Politico
A bill that would allow the Federal Communications Commission to give licenses to more noncommercial, localized radio stations is caught in static.
Despite support from both sides of the aisle, including strong backing from Arizona Sen. John McCain, a group of Republican senators have successfully blocked the bill.
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso currently has a hold on the measure, which would create a new crop of radio stations — known as low-power FM stations — dedicated to hyperlocal community news, such as information about school boards, city councils and church groups, or spreading music by local artists.
Congress has considered for nearly a decade allowing more low-power FM stations to enter the market. In 2000, Congress revoked the FCC’s authority to give licenses to low-power radio stations that are three clicks away from other stations on the radio dial — so-called third adjacent channels — and therefore limited low-power stations mostly to rural areas, where the airwaves aren’t as crowded.
There are already about 800 low-power FM stations in the U.S., according to the Media Access Project, a Washington-based advocacy group. Low-power FM stations operate at 100 watts or less and reach only a few miles. By comparison, the FM station WMMR in Philadelphia runs at 16,500 watts. Still, larger broadcasters worry the small stations could interfere with their signals.
The House passed the bill in December by voice vote, but Senate action has been slow going. Barrasso is blocking the measure from floor consideration because he wants to ensure it includes language that distinguishes full-power FM stations from low-power FM stations. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) previously held up the measure because New Jersey was given an exemption from the proposed changes.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) also moved to block the bill earlier this year.
The National Association of Broadcasters, a trade group for major radio stations, has said it is not against the concept of low-power FM stations but worries that more channels would add congestion to an already crowded market and interfere with the radio signal for commercial stations.
“It’s difficult to shoehorn hundreds of stations into an already crowded radio dial,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. “You just can’t give everyone a Social Security card and a radio station at birth and think that there’s not going to be chaos on the airwaves.”
A study conducted by the MITRE Corp. in 2003 found that low-power FM stations do not interfere with the signal of major stations three clicks away on the radio dial. But major broadcasters still have outstanding concerns about the report’s validity.
Proponents of community stations say the lobbying force of the NAB has influenced the sluggish movement of the bill through Congress.
“It is unfortunate that even though the legislation has been worked on for the better part of four Congresses and has cleared the Senate commerce committee in each of the last four Congresses, there are those who choose to side with corporate special interests and use anonymous holds to block the progress this bill represents,” said Senate sponsor Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).
“They’ve been very successful in using the procedural drag of the Senate to make this go very slow,” said Pete Tridish, executive director of the Prometheus Radio Project, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit group that’s an outspoken advocate for community radio stations. Other advocacy groups in favor of the bill include the United Church of Christ, the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Future of Music Coalition.
Wharton said he didn’t know the bill was being held up in the Senate or which senators had placed holds on the bill.
“Members of Congress know that radio is a lifeline service to their constituents in times of crisis ... and the role the radio plays in the community,” said Wharton. “That’s why members of Congress are listening to our arguments and appreciate the importance of preventing interference on the airwaves.”article originally published at Politico.