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News Archive: October 2006

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10/27/06 - Clear Channel: For Sale? [link to this story]

Interesting stories abound in the news about the world's largest broadcast/outdoor advertising/live music venue conglomerate entertaining the idea of going private, possibly selling itself out to a "vulture capitalist" firm.

Clear Channel's official line on the buyout talks is that it seeks to "enhance shareholder value," which is an eloquent way of saying there's greed at play, and the typical sources of funding aren't working out so well anymore.

Clear Channel shot to prominence with the help of venture capital infusion, and taking the company public pumped billions of dollars into it, hundreds of millions of which ended up in the pockets of the founding Mays family. The rumors of going private have further jacked up the company's stock price, which certainly doesn't hurt matters.

None of this means that Clear Channel is in some sort of financial difficulty. The company's outdoor advertising division is the most wildly profitable of the bunch, and although its broadcast properties were highly leveraged (especially during the period of explosive growth post-1996) they also remain profitable.

Corporate transitions from public to private and vice-versa, like combination-and-spinoff cycles, often come about when companies feel there's money to be made in the change. Lowry Mays and his sons will see another windfall out of any deal, and taking the company private removes it from an element of public accountability.

10/23/06 - Some Corporate Airwave Piracy Gets Its Due [link to this story]

Last year the FCC issued several Notices of Apparent Liability to several cross-border companies in southern California. These companies were using unlicensed microwave data links to connect corporate and production facilities. Recently the FCC finally formalized the forfeitures against most of them.

Two companies caught up in last year's are broadcasters, and use unlicensed studio-to-transmitter (STL) links to connect studios in the U.S. with transmitters in Tijuana. Both of them claimed they were operating under the counsel of the FCC's International Bureau, which assured them they didn't need licenses anymore to operate the links. The Enforcement Bureau called that counsel "misplaced" and "mistaken."

Turning $86,000 worth of NALs into $68,000 worth of fines is better than nothing, especially when compared to previous endeavors against corporate piracy of the airwaves.

10/17/06 - $100 Million Worth of Copyright Liberation? [link to this story]

My friend Andrew recently forwarded me this message from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales:

Imagine there existed a budget of $100 million to purchase copyrights to be made available under a free license. What would you like to see purchased and released under a free license?

Photos libraries? Textbooks? Newspaper archives? Be bold, be specific, be general, brainstorm, have fun with it.

I was recently asked this question by someone who is potentially in a position to make this happen, and he wanted to know what we need, what we dream of, that we can't accomplish on our own, or that we would expect to take a long time to accomplish on our own.

It's an interesting thought experiment, though I prefer liberating works from copyright abuse in a more unconventional manner, and would rather see funds invested in such causes. E-mail Jimmy with your thoughts, and maybe - just maybe - something will come of it.

10/13/06 - A Conversation With Jeremy Lansman [link to this story]

This week I guest-hosted the Mediageek radio show and had the sublime pleasure of making the telephonic acquaintance of Jeremy Lansman. He's a living bit of community radio history, not to mention a genius when it comes to hacking DTV and FCC licensing regulations, though he is somewhat ambivalent about pirate radio these days.

Mediageek is a half-hour program, but Jeremy and I talked for much longer on a wide variety of subjects, from what it was like to be at ground zero of the first golden age of community radio, to trying to eke out a living as an independent TV station, to consolidation in the telecom environment. You can download the raw interview here (1:20:25, 76.63 MB) if you're interested, otherwise Paul will have the abbreviated version up later this weekend.

10/8/06 - State-Level Challenge to Florida's Anti-Pirate Law? [link to this story]

The only attempt made so far to challenge Florida's law making radio piracy a state felony involves a petition from the American Radio Relay League asking the FCC to issue a declaratory ruling nullifying the state law on jurisdictional grounds. Although the FCC has been historically very aggressive in asserting its jurisdictional superiority when it comes to regulation of the airwaves, in the cases of Florida and New Jersey it's looked the other way - the ARRL's petition has languished in the FCC's circular file for 19 months now.

But Rayon Payne, of all people, thinks Florida's law can be successfully contested at the state level. He recently called the Florida Secretary of State's office and asked for a license to broadcast. Payne's premise is, if the state of Florida wants to assert some sort of policing authority over use the public airwaves, then it should include a licensing power as a part of that authority.

There's something patently unjust about a state enforcing rules of access to a public resource without providing the proper mechanisms to lawfully use the resource. In Payne's words, "It's like the state saying, if you want to drive in our state, you have to go to Alaska to get the driver's license."

Payne says the person he talked to at the Secretary of State's office could not wrap their brain around this concept, and eventually the call ended in frustration. He's considered filing a formal challenge to the anti-pirate statute in state court, and he would be an excellent candidate: Payne certainly doesn't want to run afoul of federal law again, and if he can find state-level purchase to resume broadcasting he'd jump at it.

There are a couple of downsides to this tactic. The statute's language explicitly refers to the FCC as the primary licensing authority that the state seeks to uphold; this may be enough to convince a judge that there's no need for the state to get involved in the licensing process itself. In Payne's specific instance, given his prior encounters with the state, it is not predisposed to doing him any favors, and that may be enough to taint any challenge he raises.

However, such a challenge would certainly catch the notice of the FCC, which would be compelled to intervene in the issue and take an actual position on the crucial jurisdictional question.

10/5/06 - Satellite Radio Network is Partially Pirate [link to this story]

Unlike earlier this year, when XM and Sirius admitted to selling souped-up in-car transceivers that operated beyond acceptable FCC power levels, XM Satellite Radio now reports that its terrestrial-based network of repeater-transmitters - designed to bolster its space-based coverage pattern, especially in urban areas - has not only been operating at excessive power, but on unauthorized frequencies.

As of yet neither XM nor Sirius have been penalized in any way by the FCC for their previous indiscretions. But it's one thing to conspire with a third party transceiver-maker to juice the microwattage, and another to intentionally deploy a non-compliant chain of transmitters across the country.

Of the 800 repeater-sticks XM has deployed, more than one-quarter are overpowered, and another 19 have apparently been installed without any FCC permission at all. And they call us the pirates?

10/1/06 - Class Ds Survive in Washington [link to this story]

The on-again, off-again story of Mercer Island High School station KMIH appears to finally have a happy ending. Threatened with expulsion from the airwaves by a commercial station looking to move closer to a metropolitan market, community support rallied local, state, and Congressional officials to seek a compromise involving the FCC and affected stations.

While the attempt to legislate a solution didn't really go anywhere, some "creative engineering" seems to have saved the day. Another affected high school station will also move to a new FM channel and increase its power to boot.

According to the FCC rules as written, these stations, which hold now-obsolete "Class D" low-power FM station licenses, should have gone dark without a whimper. It's nice to see that spectrum-occupants are occasionally amenable to accommodating each other, even though their "rights of use" to the airwaves may be disparate.