The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology had members of the FCC in for three hours of grilling a couple of weeks ago under the rubric of “continued oversight,” which is a fancy way of saying “giving members a chance to grandstand on pet issues.”
Subjects like the FCC’s plans to repurpose DTV spectrum for wireless broadband, reform communications subsidy programs, and the protection of net neutrality got the most attention, but questions of the FCC’s enforcement capabilities and how pirate radio fits into the mix did arise. Continue reading “Future Enforcement: Questions of Money and Will”
Three months ago, the FCC announced it was preparing to decimate its Enforcement Bureau by removing half its existing staff from the field and closing two-thirds of its field offices. The proposal, based on a $700,000 study prepared by outside consultants, did not sit well with anybody, and was popularly seen as the FCC effectively abdicating its role as police on the public airwaves.
That is, until last Tuesday, when the FCC announced it was abandoning that plan. There will still be enforcement cuts, but nearly not as draconian. Nine field offices are slated to close (instead of 16) and the agency has pledged to concentrate its field staff in markets where maintaining spectrum integrity is of primary importance. To make up for the offices that will be closed, the FCC will have not one, but two “Tiger Teams” ready for deployment on a short fuse. Even though it was brief, Chairman Tom Wheeler’s statement on the revised plan sounds contrite: “This updated plan represents the best of both worlds: rigorous management analysis combined with extensive stakeholder and Congressional input.”
In simple terms, the broadcast industry lit a fire under Congress about the importance of having something akin to recognizable (if not robust) enforcement activity by the FCC. This is the fruit of a carefully-coordinated lobbying campaign by the National Association of Broadcasters, New York State Broadcasters Association, and New Jersey Broadcasters Association, and the hook they used to make their counterattack on the FCC’s downsizing plan was pirate radio. The subject was mentioned repeatedly in Congressional hearings during which the reduction-in-force came up. And on the day that the FCC announced it was stepping back from eviscerating enforcement, a letter co-signed by more than 30 members of Congress to the FCC was released highlighting “Unauthorized FM Radio Operations in New York City.” Continue reading “FCC Radically Revises Enforcement Drawdown”
A one-two punch on Capitol Hill for the FCC’s plan to decimate its field enforcement presence. The chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce chair Fred Upton (R-MI) dropped a letter on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler April 23rd demanding all agency documentation, “including all drafts, memos, emails analyses, PowerPoint slides, interim reports, and the final report related to your proposal to close FCC field offices,” as well as “all internal communications and internal analyses, related to the Enforcement Bureau and Office of Managing Director joint recommendtion to the commission to close the FCC field offices.”
The FCC has until this Thursday (May 7) to respond. At present, Congress is working on the same stuff leaked to the public earlier this month. Continue reading “Congress to Investigate FCC Enforcement Cuts”
More details are trickling out about the proposal to dramatically slash the FCC’s enforcement presence in the field. To recap: two-thirds of the FCC’s 24 field offices would be closed, and staffing would be cut in half. To make up for the cuts, the FCC would establish a “tiger team” to descend on enforcement hot-spots, using pre-positioned equipment. Where the FCC cedes the field entirely, it seeks to establish relationships with private-sector interests to help with its job.
At a hearing on Capitol Hill last week on the FCC budget, Chairman Tom Wheeler attempted to explain the cuts. He said this is the first time the agency’s examined its enforcement activities in such depth in more than 20 years. They found the FCC’s “field footprint” to be “too large and inefficient.” His prepared testimony casts this as dispassionate math: simply put, the cost-per-employee out in the field is much higher than it is back at headquarters. Continue reading “FCC Enforcement Cuts: The Fine(ish) Print”
Last month, the Federal Communications Commission announced it was preparing to conduct a test of its protocol for a "multi-market study on critical information needs" in Columbia, South Carolina. The study proposal suggests a two-pronged approach: the first is a "media market census" which will look at broadcast, newspaper, and online news content in sample markets around the country. The second prong is a "community ecology study" in which surveys will be conducted to "measure community members’ actual and perceived critical information needs." This will be coupled with "in-depth neighborhood interviews" involving actual citizens.
With studies like these, the devil is in the details. There’s no clear definition of what "critical information needs" actually are, and while the proposal plans to focus on these needs from the perspective of "vulnerable/disadvantaged populations," these are also not clearly defined. Sample-size is also key: this particular study will look at six media markets—two large, two medium, and two small—and we still don’t know what other five markets will be involved. Continue reading “Congress Tries Intimidating FCC to Drop Information Needs Study”
One month ago today, those of us in NYC and the surrounding area were hunkering down and riding out a storm named Sandy. As conditions worsened and disruptions in communications technologies multiplied, people did something they don’t often do en masse anymore: they turned to radio to find out what was going on.
A few radio stations did provide an informational and emotional lifeline, demonstrating that the medium still has an important role to play in our modern media environment. The ubiquity of broadcasting, coupled with the ease of access to it (no device necessary save for a cheap receiver, no contracts, no terms of service) made radio the go-to medium after almost everything else stopped working. Continue reading “Beware Broadcasters' Post-Sandy Opportunism”
On June 6, the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on “The Future of Audio” – an open-ended, quasi exploratory affair covering several subjects. Of note was the testimony of Jeff Smulyan, the President and CEO of Emmis Communications.
Emmis, in conjunction with iBiquity Digital Corporation and Intel, unveiled a prototype smartphone with FM-HD reception capability at the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual convention in April. The NAB itself has publicly acknowledged that getting FM reception into phones is its number one legislative priority this year. Continue reading “Broadcasters Begin Push for Radio Chips in Phones”
Congratulations to everyone who worked tirelessly – both over the last 10 years and the last two weeks – to convince Congress to finally approve the Local Community Radio Act. Given the recent changes in the political winds of D.C., this was most likely the very last chance to fundamentally expand the LPFM radio service.
Things literally came down to the wire: after locking the bill in stasis for months with secret holds from industry-friendly Senators, last-minute negotiations between LPFM proponents and the National Association of Broadcasters, combined with a multi-faceted grassroots lobbying blitz, ended up in a hasty rewrite of the actual legislation, which the House quickly approved on Friday and the Senate blessed on Saturday. President Obama’s signature is a given. Continue reading “LPFM's Second Wave”
What is LPFM?
LPFM stands for Low Power FM radio broadcasting. In the United States, the lowest minimum wattage a licensed FM radio station may have is 100 watts. There are lower-power FM transmitters in use, though, by some stations who want to increase their coverage area by extending their signal. These are called translators or boosters.
While these may only have a wattage measured in a range from dozens to hundreds, they are not true broadcast stations by the FCC’s definitions – they do not originate their own programming. They rely on a “parent” station to provide what they air.
Ham (amateur) radio uses a similar system called a repeater; people don’t broadcast from it. They shoot a signal into it, and then it gets re-broadcast to an area larger than what ham operators might reach with their own gear. In a nutshell, translators and boosters are the repeaters of FM radio.
LPFM is the common term used to define an FM broadcast station that originates its own programming but has the power of a translator or booster. Under current FCC rules, operating such a station is simply not allowed. You may also see LPFM referred to by other terms – like “LPRS,” “microradio,” and “mini-FM,” but they all mean the same thing. Continue reading “The History of LPFM”
After the clusterf*ck circus, near-“deal”-breaking, and back-channel discussions sparked by a judicial ruling stripping the FCC from preventing data discrimination online, and nothing (substantive) doing from the agency itself as a result, the ball has been tossed to Congress. Where it landed with a thud.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) was poised to introduce a bill that would have effectively been a “compromise” – on an issue in which “compromise” would have meant throttling the FCC’s regulatory authority and leaving lots of loopholes for data discrimination. Bad, bad news. Continue reading “Net Neutrality Now Sliding Down Tubes”