Hiatus Ahoy: Notes While Away

My work online here will significantly slow down over the next couple of months, as I enter the most critical phase of my graduate studies to-date. Once I hopefully become ABD (“all but dissertation”) in early May, some of the pressure ease. But then I’m immediately leaving the country for an exploratory workshop hosted by the European Science Foundation on the impact of digitalization with regard to community media. As one a handful of non-EU “experts” invited to the event, I expect my role will primarily be to warn other countries in the midst of formulating, adopting, or modifying digital radio standards to stay as far away from iBiquity’s HD protocol as they possibly can.
Expect “regular” content-generation to resume sometime in late May or so. I made updates to the Schnazz, Truthful Translations, and Enforcement Action Database over the weekend, so those are up to date, at least in the near term.
In the meantime, keep an eye on these stories:
1. What the f*ck’s going on at the FCC? The hubris of current Chairman Kevin Martin apparently permeates so much of the agency now that career-level (read: non-politically motivated) FCC employees are nearing mutiny. According to Matthew Lasar, unnamed staffers complain of a hyper-politicized work environment, where basically anything and everything must be cleared through the Chairman’s office. On the third anniversary of his tenure earlier this month, some staffers dressed in black in “silent but expressive” protest.
Meanwhile, those FCC employees that are doing good work go nearly unrecognized. It’s funny that nearly half the awards given out this year for “Excellence in Engineering” among FCC staff went to people in the Enforcement Bureau. The EB just got kicked in the nuts by the Government Accountability Office for its abysmal enforcement record: according to one summary of the GAO report, which examined agency enforcement efforts between 2003 and 2006, only about 10% of all complaints against entities the FCC regulates were actually investigated, and 83% of those cases were closed without action.
Of those actions taken by the Enforcement Bureau that include the category of broadcast license enforcement (“All other investigations”), a total of 9,800 cases fell under the GAO’s gaze. Of these, the GAO was unable to determine if any enforcement action occurred 24% of the time, and a full 65% of these investigations were closed with no action taken. In summary: 10% of all Enforcement Bureau-related cases that may possibly even remotely involve pirate radio actually result in punitive action. The paper tiger remains in full effect.
Two key pieces of prose from the GAO report stand out, as they are apropos to FCC enforcement vis-à-vis microradio:
While FCC assesses the impact of its enforcement program by periodically reviewing certain program outputs, it lacks the management tools needed to fully measure its outputs and manage its program. Specifically, FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has not set specific enforcement goals, developed a well-defined enforcement strategy, or established performance measures that are linked to the enforcement goals. FCC measures outputs, such as the extent to which it takes enforcement action within its statute of limitations requirement for assessing fines or the time it takes to close investigations, but it does not measure outcomes such as the effects of its enforcement actions on levels of compliance in certain areas.
Enforcement Bureau officials told us that the bureau has not set specific goals and performance measures because its priorities are constantly changing. Officials explained that the Enforcement Bureau is responsive to a number of stakeholders—Congress, Commissioners, the public—and the priorities of those stakeholders change. In addition, the Enforcement Bureau is responsible for enforcing a wide range of rules and issues, and current enforcement priorities may not be future enforcement priorities.
Over on Capitol Hill, it would appear that the House Commerce Committee – one body of Congress with direct oversight of the FCC – is actively seeking Chairman Martin’s head. The Committee’s filed a massive request for documents from the agency, concerned about claims that Martin’s management style is so politically-tainted to the point of being arbitrary and capricious. Most of the requested information involves Martin’s specific management of agency staff and resources.
2. Interference between LPFM stations and FM translators is a growing concern, with real-world implications. One of those currently suffering is Brad Johnson, founder of KQRP-LP in Salida, California. Paul the Mediageek recently interviewed Brad about how KQRP’s signal is getting stomped from all sides: first by full-power FM stations on nearby channels, but now, especially, by a newly-installed godcaster (broadcasting Calvary Satellite Network programming, natch) operating on KQRP’s first-adjacent frequency. As Paul and Brad mentioned during their conversation, the FCC is currently deliberating changes that might ameliorate this problem, but in the interim folks are getting screwed.