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News Archive: January 2003

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1/28/03 - Supremes on FCC v. NextWave: Bankruptcy Law Trumps Public Interest [link to this story]

What happens to the spectrum "owned" by a telecommunications company when it goes belly-up?

According to yesterday's Supreme Court ruling in the case of FCC v. NextWave Personal Communications, Inc., bankruptcy can now be used as a shield by companies who want to keep their valuable spectrum real estate safe from government repossession - even if they haven't yet paid for it.

A synopsis of the case: in 1996, when the FCC auctioned off the spectrum destined to be developed for personal communications services (aka "PCS" - think wireless phones, pagers, PDAs, etc.), it restricted two of the six auctions to small companies. The idea was to encourage new entrants into a booming sector of the telecom industry: competition would drive down prices for wireless services, encouraging increased adoption of wireless technologies.

NextWave Personal Communications, Inc., a startup telecom corporation (founded in 1995) bid successfully on licenses for two blocks of nationwide PCS spectrum. The combined bid price for both sets of licenses was $4.86 billion. NextWave signed a contract with the FCC agreeing to pay the $4.86 billion in installments. A clause in the contract clearly stated that the FCC could revoke NextWave's PCS licenses if "full and timely payment" of these installments were not made.

A year later, NextWave ran into trouble securing more money from financiers; this put the company's ability to pay for its spectrum at risk. The FCC temporarily suspended NextWave's payment plan, giving it a year to either get its fiscal house in order or give back the spectrum it bid on.

In June, 1998, NextWave filed for bankruptcy. Since it effectively defaulted on its license payments in the process, the FCC moved to revoke NextWave's licenses and re-auction the spectrum. Spectrum is valuable - NextWave probably considered it part of its equity (and a big chunk of its corporate net worth) - and fought hard not to lose control of it.

While the bankruptcy court in New York sided with NextWave (and even moved to slash more than $3.5 billion off the amount owed to the FCC), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and the legal wrangling bounced up and down the judicial ladder until the Supreme Court agreed to take the case last year.

Yesterday, in an 8-1 decision, the Supremes ruled in favor of NextWave. They found the FCC in violation of a bankruptcy protection law which forbids the government from revoking permits and licenses from bankrupt entities solely based on their immediate inability to pay.

"In short," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia for the majority, "a debt is a debt, even when the obligation to pay it is also a regulatory condition." Certain exemptions are written into bankruptcy law that give government agencies the right to revoke licenses in response to bankruptcies, but none apply to the FCC and spectrum auctions.

Therefore, the Court ruled, NextWave still properly controls those chunks of PCS spectrum it bought at auction, even though it has not fully paid for them yet, and it may do with them as it wishes. If the FCC were to reclaim that spectrum, it would violate the protections afforded to NextWave and its assets under bankruptcy law. Government agencies (in theory) cannot break other laws to uphold their own.

Justice Stephen Breyer, the lone voice of dissent, believes the majority erred in reading the bankruptcy statute in question too literally - in such a way that effectively prohibits the government from using repossession as a means of collecting payment from those who use public resources for profit. Quoth Breyer:

"To read the statute in light of its purpose makes clear that Congress did not want always to prohibit the Government from enforcing a sales contract through repossession. Nor did it intend an interpretation so broad that it would threaten unnecessarily to deprive the American public of the full value of public assets that it owns. [cite deleted] (authorization of spectrum auctions with restrictions 'to protect the public interest')."

Now comes the free-market irony in all of this: NextWave holds chunks of wireless spectrum that it bought at an FCC auction in 1996 for $4.86 billion. The FCC, thinking it would regain control of that spectrum by NextWave's default, re-auctioned the spectrum in 2001, and the winning bids totaled $16 billion. The results of that auction are now voided thanks to this decision.

The general consensus among mainstream business journalists (as that is the only place you'll find coverage of this story) is that NextWave will sell the spectrum to other, larger wireless phone companies. The proceeds of those sales, if they take place, will not flow directly back to the U.S. Treasury; thanks to bankruptcy law, if NextWave liquidates its assets the FCC will get a slice of the leftovers, but it must wait in line with the company's other creditors.

NextWave has paid the FCC more than $400 million so far (less than 10% of what it owes), and the chances of seeing payment in full are now almost nil.

The entire system of spectrum auctions was designed in 1993 to infuse the U.S. Treasury with cash from a public resource newly opened to popular commercial development. The rules governing the auctions NextWave participated in were even crafted specifically to promote the entry of smaller companies into the telecommunications industry.

Yet when the market tanked on NextWave, it ran crying to the courts to keep a valuable public resource it never fully paid for. Ultimately it is the larger wireless companies who will benefit from this decision, as they now have a chance to snap up more spectrum at bargain-basement prices (the result of a bankrupt owner desperate to raise cash). Even worse, what began as an attempt to leverage a public resource for public enrichment ends up a twisted form of corporate welfare, as hardly any money from a spectrum fire-sale will actually make it into government coffers to pay for the FCC's initial auction.

The FCC - which initially released the spectrum into the marketplace - can only stand by and watch it in action, with the endgame in complete contradiction to the agency's intent. While I'd normally take a bit of pleasure from watching the FCC get a comeuppance in court, on this issue it makes my stomach churn.

1/24/03 - Clear Channel Bashing Made Easy [link to this story]

Look no further than a new addition to the company's own web site - a thinly-veiled whitewashing of the ol' corporate image called "Clear Channel Cares."

According to the site, Clear Channel is launching a publicity campaign to promote just how it contributes to the communities it does business in. The campaign is running on the company's radio stations and outdoor billboards (Clear Channel is the largest single owner of radio stations and billboards in America).

"Clear Channel Cares" is pathetic beyond description. Honest to God, I almost puked after downloading their national radio spot. The site also features "localized audio" - spots providing examples of Clear Channel's community spirit in a whopping nine markets. For a 1,200+ station conglomerate, you think they could've tried a bit harder.

The billboard side of the campaign is even more laughable: "Working to give local heroes a voice, a stage and a victory!" Overlooking the fact that the statement is grammatically incorrect (missing serial comma)...what the f*ck does that mean?

Remember, of course, that this bout of goodwill propaganda essentially costs the company nothing, as it owns all of the outlets of self-promotion.

Clear Channel's spin machine has also descended on Washington, D.C. The company's newly-established lobbying office has been working Capitol Hill incredibly hard, and as a result a member of Clear Channel's executive suite will be the featured guest at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on January 30. Odds are that either CEO Lowry "Papa" Mays or President/COO Mark "Big Brother" Mays will represent the company; there are conflicting reports on which one will take the hot seat.

The hearing is ostensibly being called to give senators a chance to grill the media behemoth on the negative effects of radio consolidation, but Mays is whipping up quite a whopper about how Clear Channel is a giant in the information industry, yes, but it's woefully misunderstood. Be on the lookout for highly inflated statistic-bandying and a firm but non-threatening attitude.

(Seriously, though, the company needs proofreaders. Check Mark Mays' bio and chuckle at the mangled words/sentences. I'm glad to know that Mays "sets strategic direction and strategy" for the company. Also, is "unduplicatable" a real word? Jesus H. Christ, with the several hundred million dollars of profit cleared last year you'd think they could afford some remedial English tutoring.)

1/18/03 - Deez Nutz Busts the Station that Snitched [link to this story]

There is a clever sleuth in cahoots with Deez Nutz 93.7, the unlicensed microradio station shut down by the FCC about a week and a half ago. This MP3 of a phone call to "KUBE 93" evening DJ Eric Powers (:53, 368K) seems to connect the commercial station to the enforcement action.

Here is a partial transcript of the call - note there is no mention of interference being a problem with Deez Nutz, even though the station broadcast only two channels away from KUBE:

Caller: Have you ever heard of that pirate station Deez Nutz 93.7?

Eric Powers: Uh, actually, yeah, we have.

Caller: Really. You know why they went off the air recently?

Eric Powers: Well, for one they were breaking the law. So that was just totally illegal, what they were doing.

Caller: Yeah? So?

Eric Powers: So, not to mention the profanity. They were also taking away listeners from us. So, what we did is we contacted the FCC and we opened up a case against them.

KUBE-FM broadcasts on 93.3 and is a wholly owned automaton of Clear Channel Communications. "KUBE 93" programs an "urban" format of homogenized hip-hop music (certified safe for the suburban white kids), while Deez Nutz was apparently broadcasting rap in its full, raw glory.

1/16/03 - Sirius Sells Out to Creditors [link to this story]

And then there was one...well, not quite yet. Sirius Satellite Radio, the smaller of the two satellite radio service providers in the United States, is still on the air - but barely.

On Tuesday the FCC approved the transfer of Sirius' licenses to broadcast via satellite to the company's largest creditors. A life-or-death deal hinged on this transfer taking place. In exchange for the licenses, a consortium of investment banks and private capital investment firms will swap approximately $700 million worth of debt and $200 million cash, and will also acquire majority stock control of the company.

Once the billion-dollar deal is closed, Sirius will have sold off its most valuable possession - its government-granted right to broadcast via satellite. Without the deal Sirius says it would have run out of cash by June and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. That announcement came on Monday, just a day before the FCC approved the license transfers.

While none of the creditors exercise singular control over the satellite licenses, it would seem that if the company went belly-up they would probably go to those owed the most dough, pending FCC approval. Since Sirius has already demonstrated the ability to broadcast video as well as audio on its channels, I would not be surprised if the company moves away from radio and into something else, setting up XM Satellite Radio with a monopoly on mainstream satellite radio broadcasting.

(A side note - Sirius' latest 10-Q filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (filed Nov. 14, 2002) notes that its satellites "have experienced circuit failures on their solar arrays," but it did not expect the burnouts to cause any problems with its radio signal. At the same time, Sirius is thinking about dropping its insurance coverage on the satellites, "in light of the increased costs and the probability of an insurable failure occurring.")

At the end of last year Sirius had signed up 29,947 subscribers, each paying ~$13 a month for satellite radio service); XM claimed a total of more than 340,000 (at ~$10/mo) as of year-end 2002.

XM may be bigger than Sirius, but it is also bleeding money and just secured another round of loans and debt-restructuring, this one to the tune of $450 million. As part of this financing round, R. Steven Hicks - the man who helped build Clear Channel Communications (a longtime XM investor) - will assume a spot on the company's board of directors. General Motors, Honda and the Bank of New York are also major players in this recent deal.

At the close of the NASDAQ stock market yesterday, Sirius stock was going for $1.37 a share while XM was trading at $4.10.

1/15/03 Update #2 - More details on Deez Nutz' Bust; Stations-in-a-Suitcase @ Flea Markets?; AM IBOC - Listen For Yourself [link to this story]

A couple of additional data points to add to the first reported FCC pirate radio enforcement action of the year: Kent, WA's Deez Nutz 93.7 received not one, but two visits from the FCC on Friday, January 9.

The person who lives where the station was housed was not home at the time of the first visit, but the FCC agents on the case contacted the landlord of the property and "instructed" them to dismantle the antenna and cut the coaxial cable feed line.

That is unique, especially considering the fact that the agents apparently had no warrant authorizing the destruction of Deez Nutz' gear. Later that evening the agents returned and hand-delivered a warning letter to the station's host tenant. They did not seize the transmitter itself.

From the unconfirmed rumor mill: a recent thread on the newsgroup notes that someone is circulating on the hamfest (amateur radio convention) circuit in the Southeastern U.S., selling "suitcase size Micro FM broadcasting stations." While other posters to the thread confirm that the guy exists, the only detail they can provide is that he works out of the back of a U-Haul-style trailer.

If the rumor is true, I wonder if this guy is selling a product similar to this 30-watt "station in a suitcase" marketed by a Canadian firm. The price (nearly $4,000!) is way too steep for what you actually get, but hey, maybe people will pay a premium for easily-assembled gear designed with maximum mobility in mind. Those who can afford the initial price tag can also purchase some cool add-ons for the rig, like a solar power conversion kit and a 100-watt amplifier.

And finally: one of the flagship AM radio stations involved in the tests of the IBOC digital radio standard is offering the public a chance to compare its traditional analog AM sound to its new "HD Radio" signal. WOR 710 in New York has published .WAV files online of program snippets as broadcast in both analog and digital mode.

The files, which feature both talk and music, make for an interesting listen. While there is definitely more dynamic range to the audio of the digital signal, it comes at the expense of artifact noise, leaving one with the impression that they are listening to a mid-bandwidth webcast or poorly-encoded MP3 file.

This, apparently, is the best that IBOC can do for AM. A comment spotted on another Usenet thread summed up my own sentiments well: "And they call this 'FM quality?' That's like calling an Easy Bake Oven 'gourmet chef quality.'"

1/15/03 - FCC Grilled on the Hill: Going Through the Motions [link to this story]

Yesterday the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing concerning competition in the telecommunications industries. All five members of the FCC were present and all were quizzed by the Senators on various issues, most of which dealt with the series of regulatory reviews curently underway at the agency.

The FCC's review of media ownership reviews wasn't the hottest topic of the hearing, but the subject did arise. During those brief moments some choice quotes were uttered.

The best came from FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who has clearly felt the sting from critics who decry his zeal for turning over regulatory functions to marketplace forces. In 1998, with the dot-com bubble in full bloom and radio consolidation in full swing, then-junior Commissioner Powell compared the idea of regulation in the public interest to modern art: "people see in it what they want to see. That may be a fine quality for art, but it is a bit of a problem when that quality exists in a legal standard."

Yesterday, Powell changed his tune. Looking quite the part of a Mafia don, with a gaudy pinstripe suit and big-ass ring, he responded to his critics with the following (just so it's clearly on the record - listen in MP3 format):

"I can assure you we will be guided exclusively by the public interest and resist the pressure to view our exercise, as so often urged, as awarding benefits and burdens to corporate interests." [:32, 252K]

That being said, Mikey Powell spent the Q-and-A portion of the hearing deflecting any questions concerning media ownership concentration. In one breath he would agree that Clear Channel's dominance of the American radio landscape is troubling; in the next he would deftly avoid suggesting an actual solution to the problem.

What this example - and the entire hearing itself, really - demonstrated was that policymakers have no problem staging a debate so long as there's no real intent to actually influence the process already in motion.

Even those few Senators who did raise concerns with the FCC's media ownership proceedings did so mostly in the context of economics or tied it to the hot-button issue of indecency on the airwaves - with the exception of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Wyden actually tried to nail down each Commissioner on the media concentration issue, using the growth of Clear Channel as his rhetorical hammer, but it was pretty weakly executed.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) directly asked each Commissioner what changes they would make to the 1996 Telecommunications Act: none had any suggestions save increasing the FCC's statutory authority to issue bigger fines against rulebreakers.

Most members of the Commerce Committee seemed worried about two specific things: the $2 trillion dollars lost in the crash of telecommunications and media stocks and the layoff of 500,000+ workers in the affected industries - in that order. Their overall level of engagement with FCC-related issues seemed pretty superficial - and these are the Senators most closely involved with overseeing the agency and its work?

Most FCC Commissioners followed Powell's squirmy lead, although Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps did express some personal concerns about the media ownership question.

In general, though, the rhetoric was almost totally tied to corporations versus consumers (or the interaction of corporations with each other), and not much concern for democracy itself. (I must admit that Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy actually used the word "citizen" in her opening statement, but she may have misspoke.)

Anyway, here's a few more choice utterances from the hearing - they are also in MP3 format:

Michael Copps opening statement: media concentration [1:10, 555K]
"Suppose for a moment that the Commission votes to remove or significantly modify the [media] ownership limits. And suppose just for a moment that we made a mistake. How do you put that genie back into the bottle?"
I've emailed him with an offer to crash on my futon if he's serious about holding more public hearings.

Michael Copps response to Sen. Ron Wyden's question on media concentration [1:42, 799K]
"I am so committed to trying to energize and to spark a national debate. This should not be an inside-the-Beltway issue because it goes to the rights of every citizen of this country...There is nothing as important as this on our agenda."

Jonathan Adelstein response to Sen. Ron Wyden [1:00, 477K]
Likens the state of radio to "the canary in the mine," warning us of what may happen to other media outlets if they are subjected to consolidation and cross-ownership.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Michael Powell discuss media concentration [2:06, 988 K]
Best quote in the exchange comes from the Senator: "When you talk about the diversity of voices out there...are you talking about more voices by one ventriloquist?"

Paul Riismandel @ mediageek has recorded and encoded the 23-minute segment of the (3-hour) meeting that dealt most closely with media concentration concerns; you can download it here (also in MP3, 2.6 MB).

1/14/03 - First Reported Bust of 2003 [link to this story]

Because somebody has to go first: Deez Nutz 93.7 in Kent, WA (smack dab between Seattle and Tacoma) got a knock last Friday (Jan. 9). Details are sketchy but it sounds like the station tested the patience of the Seattle FCC field office about as far as it could.

This is the earliest start we've seen on the FCC's unlicensed enforcement efforts, but that means nothing. The Enforcement Action Database will be duly updated. The good news from all this is, there's at least two (maybe three) active microradio stations that remain on the air in the area.

1/9/03 - Media Coverage of Media Deregulation: Too Little, Too Late [link to this story]

The Pacifica radio network's flagship program, Democracy Now!, featured a segment this week on the FCC's current media deregulation crusade. It featured several guests, including whiz-bang media scholar Robert McChesney, Jeff Chester from the Center for Digital Democracy, and FCC Media Bureau chief W. Kenneth Ferree (who's already scoffed at encouraging more public input on this issue as "an exercise in foot-stomping").

While these three did the majority of the talking, a couple of other guests got some important words in edgewise. One of them was Mara Einstein, assistant professor of Media Studies at Queens College (CUNY). Einstein wrote one of the 12 studies the FCC released late last year to justify its current effort: hers was "Program Diversity and the Program Selection Process on Broadcast Network Television."

Einstein began her comments by clarifying that, contrary to popular interpretation, her study did not conclude that program diversity on broadcast TV networks has increased. Instead, her research found that diversity on the network television landscape has remained basically unchanged throughout the last several years of industry deregulation and consolidation.

Reason: the dominant economic model of advertiser-supported TV, which directs networks to shoot for mass audiences - or, as she called it, "aggregating eyeballs." Mass appeal abhors risk-taking so pabulum perpetuates itself on the vast wasteland.

McChesney and Chester spanked Ferree pretty damn nicely. The FCC stooge alternated between reading off a policy script and/or making snide comments about the criticism. Listen for yourself here (Real Player required).

It's too bad the segment aired the week after the initial round of public comment closed on the issue. In that regard, Democracy Now! is in a lot of company: most of the nation's largest newspapers just got around to publishing stories on the pending changes to media policy in the last week.

There is a long way to go before the tide turns and this current wave of corporate-friendly rule-changing is all but a done deal. That's why I didn't even bother filing comments on the proceeding - experience has taught that a citizen's words will be ignored and concerns pooh-poohed.

Perhaps I will file replies to the comments submitted by all of the major media corporations. Something short and simple, like, "See you on the air." People who want to rebut the statements filed in the FCC action to-date have until February 3 to do so.

1/8/03 - At Least We Tried [link to this story]

When the Federal Communications Commission approved the rollout of digital radio ("HD Radio," as it's being branded to consumers) in October, it did so with one qualifier. Interference is a big problem with the digital radio standard that the U.S. broadcast industry has developed for itself, and the FCC admitted as much when it refused to authorize digital transmissions on the AM band during nighttime hours.

AM stations that have tested the in-band-on-channel (IBOC) digital radio technology on the air discovered it could cause heavy interference to stations on nearby frequencies, manifesting as a hash-type noise rendering the stations unlistenable. The FCC actually received complaints from radio listeners during the digital radio rulemaking proceedings about the tests and the interference, and they are on the record. The FM version of HD Radio is also susceptible to interference problems.

This did not stop the FCC from authorizing its use with great fanfare, save the one caveat on nighttime AM broadcasting.

However, this tiny prohibition stuck in the craw of at least one radio engineer: Glen Clark, who (coincidentally) helped develop the IBOC digital radio standard. He (through the D.C. law firm Garvey Schubert Barer) has petitioned the FCC to reconsider its rule on digital AM broadcasting.

Clark argues that the comprehensive ban on digital transmissions at night is overly broad; by performing some simple calculations involving each station's signal pattern, the FCC could individually approve AM stations to go digital round-the-clock if the mathematical proof predicts they'll be harmless.

Clark's proposal also suggests the creation of differing levels of digital operation for AM stations - approving partial use of the IBOC technology in nighttime broadcast conditions where the math shows too much interference.

This acknowledges the fact that some AM stations may never be allowed to fully utilize the new digital standard - if, as is expected later this year, the FCC officially consecrates its adoption (it really has no choice - the technology is being implemented as you read this, with more stations going digital every week). However, it cleverly argues its way around this problem, making for the most notable quote of the 21-page document:

"Ample Commission precedent exists to allow stations to enter into mutual-interference agreements. It is to be anticipated that in some instances both the studied station and the station which blocks it may be owned by the same licensee, facilitating the likelihood of agreement." [Emphasis added]

Translation: Consolidation of AM station ownership is so advanced now that many interference-prone stations are or will be owned by the same company. If one company owns two stations that interfere with each other, we should let the company manage the interference problem, and the FCC shouldn't worry about it.

Left unspoken, of course, is the fact that digital hash will blot out some stations on the dial; which ones fall victim to the noise floor isn't yet certain. Would you listen to radio anymore if there were fewer stations to choose from?

Contrast this with the hoopla over the FCC's creation of a low power FM (LPFM) radio service in 2000, which was gutted from its original form due to so-called "interference concerns" - all of which were either refuted or dismissed as de minimis during the agency's rulemaking. Interference was the sledgehammer used by the broadcast industry to convince Congress to intervene and squelch LPFM.

The opposite conditions exist today with digital radio: the industry and FCC both admit interference is a problem - and the problem has been documented - yet radio's transition to digital can not be stopped.

Don't let it ever be said that somebody didn't try, though: Glen Clark isn't the first person to ask the FCC for a second look at HD Radio. Unlike Clark, who seeks an expansion of the technology's use, the other petitions were critical of IBOC technology and challenged the FCC's adoption of a flawed broadcast standard. A coalition of more than 30 individuals and groups (myself included) raised concerns on several grounds, of which interference was only one.

By law, the FCC should have acted on those petitions before authorizing the rollout of "HD Radio," at the very least giving them a cursory yea or nay. Doing so would have fulfilled the statutory procedural requirement of acknowledging formal public input on the issue.

Instead, the agency completely ignored us.

That ignorance could be challenged in court, and the odds are high that a judge would force the FCC to slow down and take a closer look at digital radio. The case would be made even stronger if the FCC acts on Clark's petition, regardless of its decision. The volunteer attorney behind the IBOC opposition effort, Don Schellhardt, sums up the chances of a lawsuit against the FCC this way: "We got them by the balls on the law."

The only thing standing between justice and a digital disaster on the radio dial is money - a lot of money. Federal court lawsuits against a government agency are not cheap - they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more than our ragtag coalition can muster.

Like plenty of other FCC business, this trainwreck the and trashing of any adherence to a public interest standard is probably unstoppable. But when the radio dial goes digital and becomes even less listener-friendly, don't say we didn't warn you.

And never forget the adage about getting the best justice you can afford, for it is true. In our case, that would be none.

See the archive of filed comments to the FCC on digital radio:

- Complete listing. To run the search yourself, go to this page in the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) and type "99-325" (without quotes) into the search box

- To see the spirited (yet probably futile) attempt to prevent the madness, visit this page and type "amherst alliance" in the search box marked "5. Filed on Behalf of"

1/7/03 - Site Stuff: Media Collage Section Inaugurated [link to this story]

This has been a long time in coming: our expansion into the exploration of media collage. Kicking things off is the first feature, Truthful Translations of Political Speech. Consider it a taste of things to come.

Open-source art is cool - look for lots more in the near future as the section gets fleshed out.

1/6/03 - Shenanigans Afoot with LPFM: Beware of Calvary Chapel [link to this story]

Even though the FCC seems to have all but washed its hands of any further rollout of the LPFM service, there are those who are still trying to steal what crumbs we've got to work with. The antagonist of the moment is Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls.

Calvary Chapel petitioned the FCC in June to expand the use of "satellator" stations - translator stations fed by satellite as opposed to rebroadcasting another radio station directly - in the non-reserved band of the FM dial (everything above 91.9). As the rules currently stand, only translators located on noncommercial frequencies (88.1-91.9) can be fed by satellite; commercial translators must take their feeds from a parent full-power FM station. The FCC currently has a temporary freeze on any new translator applications for frequencies located at 92.1 or above.

The combination of the rules and freeze mean operators of FM translator chains - like Calvary Chapel - have been stymied in their dreams of creating a low-budget nationwide radio network. This petition seeks to jump-start that dream. In the process it may also gobble up open frequencies that might otherwise be put to use for live-and-local LPFM stations.

The FCC accepted Calvary Chapel's petition for rulemaking and in November designated it the docket number RM-10609. A public notice on the proposed rulemaking was issued but never posted to the FCC's web site.

In the petition (warning, hefty 7 MB .PDF download!), Calvary Chapel - after admitting it already holds 334 FM translator licenses - argues that the rule change is needed because space is running out on the noncommercial FM band (gee, wonder why?). CC suggests that if it were allowed to place repeater stations anywhere on the dial, it might actually open frequencies as translator abusers like itself cherry-pick the most clear frequencies in markets and discard interference-prone channels.

The FCC-watchers at REC Networks picked up on this early and have already gone 'round with Calvary Chapel twice during the comment and reply-comment periods (which close in a couple of weeks). National Public Radio has also filed comments on RM-10609; it halfheartedly supports the expansion of translator use but wants restrictions on just where they might be sited. NPR's position supports the concept of Calvary Chapel's proposal but is not comfortable with the translator free-for-all that CC wants.

There are two sick things about this proposal: the first is that Calvary Chapel, an admitted abuser of the translator rules and a big manipulator of the new LPFM service (having filed for dozens of new LPFM stations around the country), is behind it. The second is that, as of today, only 10 comments have been filed on this proposed rulemaking, resulting in the collective input of a whopping six individuals and groups.

As others have written about the FCC's willful ignorance of public input, it's a sad state of affairs when the only thing standing between an attempted coup of LPFM is a handful of vigilant citizens in Arizona. It still could happen, though, especially with NPR's tacit support of the concept behind the petition.