All's Not Well

On the heels of the FCC’s vote to create a low power radio service, advocates of LPFM – who’ve fought long and hard for more than a year on the issue – are celebrating. It’s a well-deserved morale boost, but by no means does the FCC’s action victory.
The war over LPFM is a multi-front battle, and while advocates have made substantial gains in front of the FCC, more dangerous fronts still remain.
The Federal Communications Commission, like any other government agency, operates at the whim of Congress. It is Congress who sets the FCC’s funding level, and it’s Congress who tells the FCC what to do by crafting the laws that imbue the agency with its power.
Right now, in the House of Representatives, Rep. Michael Oxley’s bill to kill low power radio is alive and well. Introduced as the House adjourned for 1999, the bill would effectively kill any action the FCC takes on low power radio, and prevent the agency from taking up such an idea ever again.
The thought behind it is, “If you can’t play by the rules, change them.” As the FCC’s vote last week to legalize low power radio drew closer, the radio industry was not devoting its time, energy and resources to derailing the proposal. Instead, Big Broadcasting redoubled its efforts to ram the anti-LPFM bill through Congress.
Major broadcast groups have been holding special “brieifing sessions” with their Representatives over the past two months, “educating” them on the folly of the FCC’s actions and lobbying them to co-sponsor and support the bill. Undoubtedly, more than a few campaign donation checks have also exchanged hands.
The gamble is a big one: while the American public was able to shout louder than the pleadings of the broadcasters and got the FCC to listen, Congress is a much bigger arena. This is where the broadcast lobby has its true power – it has the advantage of having lobbyists on Capitol Hill to make sure our elected officials hear their message loud, clear – and repeatedly.
Apparently, the radio industry is making headway. It takes 218 votes to get the anti-LPFM bill passed in the House of Representatives; as of January 31, the National Association of Broadcasters has managed to persuade 56 Representatives to sign onto the bill. More are expected. While it’s a far cry from a majority, it is nonetheless already too many for comfort.
There’s also a push now to introduce a companion anti-LPFM bill in the U.S. Senate – New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg is expected to introduce the bill soon after Congress begins its 2000 session this week. The Senate tends to be a more deliberative body – but the NAB only needs 51 votes to get it through.
The only thing that will derail this scheme to destroy all the gains made so far is the same thing that convinced the FCC to approve low power radio to begin with – a massive outcry of public support for the idea. And it’s important to make your elected representatives realize what the people want right now – while their minds are still uncluttered at the start of a new Congressional session.
Every letter or email a lawmaker gets is often assigned a value for the number of constituents it represents. For Representatives, each letter or email is counted as the opinions of anywhere from dozens to hundreds of voters; for Senators, it ranges between the hundreds and thousands. So if you write a letter or send an email opposing anti-LPFM legislation, you’re actually speaking with more than one voice!
While the FCC’s low power FM radio plan is not perfect, it is a move in the right direction. But if we lose the battle in Congress, we lose it all. If you don’t have the time or inclination to compose your own letter, use the one on the next page.
All our courage and conviction to this point has humbled the most powerful special interest in America. But one defeat only makes the defeated grow more convinced to win the next time. That next time is now – and we simply can’t afford to lose!
Information on where to mail or email your own Congressfolk can be found at, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Project Vote Smart or at the House of Representatives or Senate websites.
(Your home address)
(Representative/Senator name/address)
Dear Representative/Senator (Name):
On January 20, 2000, the Federal Communications Commission made broadcast history. The Commission approved the creation of a low-power FM (LPFM) radio service, which has the potential to open up the public airwaves to thousands of new voices nationwide.
This is a much-needed service. Ever since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the number of stations has increased, but the number of station owners has decreased. This is due to the massive consolidation that has taken place because of the Act’s less-restrictive rules on ownership.
The radio industry has seen spectacular growth as a result of these changes; revenue and profits are at all-time highs. However, these gains have been made at the expense of the American listening public.
Thanks to the increasing consolidation of radio station ownership, national program syndication and total automation of station programming has quickly become the norm in the industry. Radio newsrooms have been gutted; locally-produced programming is either minimal (providing less than half of most stations’ content per broadcast day) or non-existent; feedback from stations to concerned listeners is either extremely arrogant or sorely absent.
People are decrying the loss of their “hometown radio stations” because of a bottom-line mentality within the broadcast industry.
A strong case for the industry’s abandonment of the interests of the communities in which they serve can be made. In fact, it already has – and it culminated with the FCC’s action on January 20.
The FCC received the most public input on the LPFM service than it ever has before – on ANY other proposal in its history. Thousands of concerned individuals and coalitions took the time and effort to file official comments before the Commission on LPFM; the diversity of voices in favor of LPFM crossed all economic and demographic lines.
The radio broadcast industry brought its full weight to bear in an attempt to derail LPFM. It filed voluminous comments with the Commission, specifically denouncing LPFM as an interference threat to existing full-power stations and predicting massive problems with the industry’s future transition to digital radio broadcasting.
However, the FCC did its own technical studies, and came to completely *opposite* conclusions on the viability of LPFM. At least one other study was filed with the Commission backing up those results.
Standing on solid technical ground, and faced with such massive public feedback, the FCC had no choice but to act accordingly.
However, there is a plan to thwart this progress. Just before the close of the Congressional session in 1999, Rep. Michael Oxley (R-OH) introduced H.R. 3439, a bill designed to kill any low power radio proposal approved by the FCC. This bill would also prohibit the FCC from ever considering such a proposal again.
In the Senate, Senator Judd Gregg is expected to announce companion legislation to HR 3439. The broadcast lobby has been hard at work lining up supporters in both chambers; chances are, you yourself have been contacted by broadcast interests urging you to support this legislation.
However, I – as a constituent and taxpayer – strongly urge you to OPPOSE any legislation repealing the FCC’s actions. What is happening now is an attempt by the broadcast lobby to usurp the will of the American public. Broadcasters – both nationwide and in (your state) -want to kill LPFM NOT because of interference concerns; broadcasters are afraid of LPFM doing the job it *should* be doing, which is serving the communities of their license.
Unfortunately, public service is a word no longer in the commercial broadcaster’s lexicon. LPFM is a partial solution to a problem plaguing America’s radio landscape, and while Congress may not be able to fully right the wrongs caused by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC has taken a small step in the right direction.
Please have faith in the FCC’s judgment and intelligence. The Commission worked long and hard, under intense political pressure, to do what is right for the American people. Please do not let us down. Register yourself in OPPOSITION to HR 3439 and the pending Senate bill. Contact the sponsors of this misguided legislation and inform them of your intent; prevent this bill from becoming a “ride” on other legislation; and urge the rest of (your state)‘s Congressional delegation to do the same.
The will of the people – YOUR people – has already spoken. Going against it is inadvisable and short-sighted. I trust you will make the proper and just decision.
(Sign name here)
(Type name here)
(Your postal address/phone number/email address here)