Halfway Dead

It was an often-lively debate, but at the end you weren’t sure whether to laugh or seethe.
After nearly two and a half hours of argument, spin and even some outright lies, the full House of Representatives voted 274 to 110 to approve the “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act” – spelling the first near-death knell for the FCC’s new low power FM radio service.
While the vote in favor of the bill was carried mostly by Republican votes, the sad truth of the matter is that if it weren’t for the Democrats who said “yea,” this bill would have died. Plus, another 50 Representatives didn’t even bother to vote on it!
The National Association of Broadcasters, National Public Radio, and all of its protectionist cronies have cleared a major hurdle in cutting the rest of the American public out of a chance to participate on the airwaves they all are supposed to have a stake in.
It’s a sad day. But the House is only one of four steps left in this process before any chance of legal low power FM radio in the America is dead forever.
The Senate has even yet to schedule the bill for hearing in a committee – things tend to move more slowly in the deliberative ‘upper House’ of Congress, and it’s often guided more by reason than rhetoric. Regardless, broadcast special interests who seek to ram this legislation through already have half the votes they need there for passage.
Yesterday, President Clinton signaled that he would veto the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act if it cleared Congress. A short statement from the White House strongly opposed the bill, which the President believes will provide a “voice to the voiceless.”
If a veto takes place, Congress will need a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override the President and make the anti-LPFM bill law.
There is also the clock, which may or may not be an ally; the FCC plans to open the filing window for the first LPFM license applications at the end of May. That would mean the first legal low power radio stations would go on the air by mid to late-summer.
If LPFM advocates can stall action in the Senate (or following a Presidential veto) long enough, LPFM will actually exist by the next time Congress tries to outlaw it.
Undoing what’s already done is much tougher than killing an idea. Expect both sides in Washington, D.C. to only ramp up their efforts to win lawmakers over as the fight over LPFM reaches these critical battlegrounds.
The Revised Bill – Nuts & Bolts
The entire arguments on the House Floor, both pro and con, were performed by about two dozen lawmakers. The overwhelming number were in support of the anti-LPFM bill.
What the House voted on was what many politicians called a “compromise” piece of legislation. Instead of banning LPFM stations outright, the modified “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act” would severely curtail its availability.
Probably the most significant change reinstates the interference policies the FCC relaxed to fit more LPFM stations on the band, and makes those interference policies a law – which then can only be changed by Congress.
In effect, this new version of the bill makes Congress the spectrum police for the FM band now, not the FCC.
By reinstating the third-adjacent channel interference requirements, the number of available open channels for LPFM stations has been cut dramatically. Instead of having the ability to fit hundreds of new stations on the dial, the anti-LPFM bill will allow around 70 – *nationwide*.
The revised bill would allow a test run of the scaled-back LPFM service in nine markets of the United States. These “experimental LPFM stations” would be monitored by an “independent testing entity” to measure any potential interference they might generate, and a report on that interference would be due to Congress by February 1, 2001.
But: Even if the “LPFM tests” prove to cause little or no interference, Congress would still have to give the okay for a further rollout of LPFM. It can even decide, despite successful tests, to revoke the licenses of those LPFM stations that helped conduct them.
What do you think are the chances of Congress approving a further expansion of something its puppetmasters on this issue didn’t originally want anyway?
In effect, the new “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act” passed by the House just about condemns LPFM to die a slow death – and the plug could be officially pulled next February.
The Arguments
The arguments on the House floor weren’t very creative. It was clear which way the vote would go right away.
Only 19 Representatives got up to make statements in more than two hours of debate. And only two those stood up and actually called for the outright defeat of the “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act.”
Those vehemently opposed to the new LPFM service talked up the NAB-manufactured “interference concerns.” Much was mentioned about LPFM’s supposed threat to “reading services for the blind,” which would be a big political taboo (if it were true, which it is not).
As the leader of the charge to pass the bill, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), called the FCC a rogue agency out to destroy the listenability of the FM band with its proposal.
Tauzin even suggested that the Department of Justice investigate the FCC for possible criminal activity in regards to the lobbying it did on Capitol Hill in support of LPFM.
Others who backed the “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act” cited fears of running small-market, “mom-and-pop” stations out of business with the increased competition.
And in an attempt to blunt the claim by LPFM proponents about a lack of diversity on the airwaves, a letter from Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation (who owns 39 radio stations nationwide) was trotted out in opposition to the low power radio proposal.
However, there was one attempt to amend the legislation on the House Floor by Rep. Tom Barrett (D-WI); the change would have given the FCC the final say next February on whether or not to further roll out the LPFM service. But that attempt at breathing some life back into the proposal was killed, by a 245-142 margin.
Those who even weakly opposed the bill did so with common arguments, as well; they cited the increasing consolidation in the radio industry, and the decreased number of voices and perspectives listeners hear nowadays. They played up the opportunities LPFM stations would provide to schools, churches and community groups.
Some even defended the FCC’s technical studies in support of low-power radio, noting that the agency’s been responsibly managing the FM band for decades already.
A few even took shots at the NAB/NPR’s massive months-long anti-LPFM lobbying effort, trying to speak up for the ‘little guy’ who hasn’t been able to compete with the special interest persuasion and propaganda campaign that’s been rolling through Washington.
Their arguments, however, fell on (mostly) deaf ears.
Vote Breakdown / Money’s Influence
Of the 274 votes in favor of the anti-LPFM bill, 188 were cast by Republicans, 85 were Democrats, and one independent Representative supported it. Support for the bill came from every state except Vermont.
Of the 110 votes against the anti-LPFM bill, 106 were cast by Democrats, 3 by Republicans, and one by an independent.
Surprisingly enough, close to half of the 50 that didn’t cast votes on H.R. 3439 had signed on as original cosponsors. If the President were to veto the bill, those “extra” potential votes necessary for an override in the House are there. This turns the Senate into the next definite battleground.
The passage of the “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act” also was a typical case study of the corrupting influence of money on politics (I worked out the math using data from Opensecrets.org):

  • The National Association of Broadcasters’ political action committee has paid out, according to the most recently available campaign finance reports for the 1999-2000 election cycle, $163,996.
  • That is about 55% of the money it spent on House members in the 1997-98 election cycle – but we’re still months away from November. And, doubtless, there’s some thank-you checks going in the mail today.
  • Of the NAB money spent so far on Congress this cycle, $130,750 has been on House Republicans, while $33,246 has been spent on House Democrats. This is just about a 4-to-1 advantage for Republican lawmakers, even though they only control the House by about a 10-vote majority.
  • Specifically looking at the “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act” itself and those who voted for it, the NAB spent $117,998 of its campaign bribery so far this election cycle directly on 62 of the votes in favor of the bill. This works out to $1,903 paid per vote.
  • However, because 274 Representatives ended up voting “aye,” the NAB’s “price per vote” drops to $430! What a bargain!
  • Some of those who cast “no” votes on the Act also got NAB donations this year or last. 12 Representatives who voted against the anti-LPFM bill still collected $14,498 (or $1,208 average) from the NAB.
  • Even some of those who didn’t vote on the bill collected $31,000. Most of that money went to those “extra” votes the NAB can call on for a vote if a presidential veto override is necessary.
  • Even more interesting is the fact that of the close to two dozen Representatives who rose to speak on the House Floor about the anti-LPFM bill, 11 of them were recipients of NAB cash, averaging around $3,000 per speech (not bad for about 10 minutes’ work each).

Unfortunately, the voice with money triumphs over the voices without it. It’s the way business gets done in Congress.
Lies, Ignorance and Rhetoric: In Their Own Words
The following are selected quotes from those Representatives who rose to speak on the “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act.” They’re provided for your information, entertainment, and scorn.
Links marked with the letters RA next to them have audio clips available of a part of their debate. Click on those links below to play the clips in Real Audio format.
Billy Tauzin (R-LA)
–NAB Price: $1,000
“The FCC will be able to issue about 70 of these (LPFM) licenses.”
“When the FCC uses money appropriated to it to lobby this Congress, you all oughta pay a lot of attention. It’s a criminal violation I believe, I’ll ask Justice Department to investigate, but when they go so far as to break the criminal laws of our country…you oughta really think about giving them the authority to move forward before Congress says ‘go forward’ on this important rollout program.”
“I wish you had been in our committee room to hear the potential interference. As a beautiful song was playing, you could hear people talking over it. As a beautiful opera, perhaps, was being presented by National Public Radio – and you could hear talking over it. As perhaps a Spanish-language station was trying to do some cultural work in the community – and you could hear somebody else talkin’ over it.”

RA Edward Markey (D-MA)
“100 watts! This is the kid across the street with an antenna. This isn’t rocket science – this is just radio! It’s been around for 80 years, and the Federal Communications Commission has been doing a good job in sorting out these interference issues.”
“Is your car radio going to be affected by this? No. Is your stereo radio going to be affected by this? No. Maybe the radio in the shower will have a little bit more interference – but we have the FCC to work it out.”

John Dingell (D-MI)
–NAB Price: $2,000
“It should be noted that the FCC move without any consideration of fact and without any careful scientific work. They have no understanding of whether or not – or how much – interference will be caused by the order which they have brought forward.”
“Great outrage existed throughout both the listener community and also through the broadcasting community.”
“I have not heard any of my colleagues on either side of the aisle to dispute the value of adding more diversity to the airwaves.”

Michael Oxley (R-OH):
–NAB Price: $3,000
“Anyone who takes an objective look must conclude that our country is rich in information and rich in public debate as it should be.”
“We’ve bent over backwards to make certain that (LPFM) could go forward.”
“Everybody in this town knows that it’s a lot easier to play defense than to play offense.”

RA David Bonior (D-MI)
“If (Gugliemo) Marconi were here today, he would have to come up with $80 to $100,000 before the FCC would even consider him a license…”
“To the credit of the FCC, some new life is being breathed into a very old idea. An important idea: the public airwaves should be the public’s interest.”

Vito Fossella (R-NY)
–NAB Price: $1,000
“The FCC overruled the will of the people. They overruled the will of the Congress.”
“The American people deserve honesty from people in public office. They deserve to be treated fairly and openly and not to be subject to idle or explicit threats.”

Frank Pallone (D-NJ)
“In my state, low power FM may even cramp local stations and disrupt consumers by interfering with local broadcasts or by duplicating local services and formats.”

RA Tom Barrett (D-WI)
–NAB Price: $500
“I don’t think Congress should be micro-managing these microstations.”
“We’ve heard a lot about a compromise here tonight. The party, of course, missing from this compromise, is the Administration. The President has told this body that he is strongly opposed to this bill and will veto it, and I think that’s something that when we talk about compromise, and there’s ‘peace in the valley,’ that we have to remember that there’s something else that’s going on here that’s not been fully explored tonight.”
“This is a fence-me-in bill. And it says to those people who currently have stations, ‘We’re gonna build this big fence around you and not to let anybody else in.'”

Stephanie Tubbs-Jones (D-OH)
“The title (of this bill) itself is deceptive. The Act seeks to preserve the status quo and to prevent others from having access to the airwaves.”
“Who are we to delay or deny opportunity to community-based groups who have more than earned the right to take advantage of this technology?”

Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)
“I’ve worked with the FCC on this issue for over two years. Exhaustive engineering studies have been completed. The experience of actual low-power radio stations have been reviewed. The results are conclusive. These stations will not interfere with the existing large radio companies that currently dominate our airwaves. This bill discourages expanding our education and cultural horizons.”

Bobby Rush (D-IL)
“The way that the bill is drafted now…this bill actually kills low-power radio stations in this nation.”