If you were holding out hope hope for seeing a legal and viable LPFM service, let go.
Regardless of the flaws in the plan, like the restrictive ownership qualifications and interference standards (which effectively cut out the majority of the American listening public from any new stations), the chances of actually seeing the service flourish are dimming quickly.
On top of a massive lobbying and legal campaign, the attack on LPFM is expanding. Legislation and lawsuits should not be our biggest concern anymore, because now broadcasters are preparing to use their stations – on our airwaves – to kill LPFM.
The Hearing
On Thursday, February 17, the House Telecommunications Subcommittee held a hearing about the FCC’s “spectrum management policies,” and the specific focus of the event was H.R. 3439, the “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 1999,” which would kill LPFM outright and bury its corpse forever.
Of the members on the Subcommittee, close to half already signed on as co-sponsors of the “Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act” before the LPFM hearing was held. Currently, more than half the votes needed to pass the ‘Act’ in the entire House have already been committed.
House leadership is also on board. Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told a gathering of broadcasters in his home state recently, “We can say no to this misguided action by the FCC, and we will.”
Still, testimony at the hearing was feisty, and members of the subcommittee appear to have split along party lines over the issue – for now.
A companion “Preservation Act” has been introduced in the Senate, although Senators typically take a much longer time mulling their options before agreeing to cosponsor legislation. That threat is still real, though.
The Lawsuit
The National Association of Broadcasters has officially filed its lawsuit to try and get the courts to overturn the FCC’s LPFM ruling. As expected, their main argument is one of the potential for interference; however, asking the courts to determine the viability of engineering studies may be a longshot at best.
Surprisingly enough, opponents to LPFM have completely skipped one recourse they could have taken to try and stop the LPFM service; it could have filed a Motion for Reconsideration with the FCC to force it to review its ruling.
Failing to follow through on all fronts may provide the D.C. District Court of Appeals with grounds to dismiss the lawsuit out-of-hand. Hearing dates have not yet been scheduled.
The Disinformation Campaign
Probably the most alarming new offensive comes from audio recordings “simulating” the interference LPFM stations would cause to radios. The NAB trotted out these recordings to play to lawmakers at the Subcommittee hearing, and has already made CD copies of these “interference examples” available for wide distribution.
This could be the beginning of a massive public disinformation campaign against LPFM.Fortunately, you can be forewarned of the propaganda attempt: below is a copy of this CD to download and enjoy – before you hear it as part of a “public service announcement” on your favorite station.
Public radio has also gotten into the act. A station in Oregon has created its own recording of “simulated LPFM interference” and posted it online for people to listen to. It hopes to get other NPR-affiliated stations to do the same.
Regardless of the flaws of these recordings, the move should alarm people. The broadcast industry is preparing to use our airwaves to discredit a service meant to open up those airwaves to greater accessibility.
Arrogance doesn’t come any more clear-cut than this, and it’s disturbing to see so much of it coming from those who purport to serve the public.
NAB ‘LPFM interference’ CDMP3 format (4.5 MB, 9:38)
Point-Counterpoint: Selected Hearing Quotes
The following are selected quotes from the testimony presented by invited speakers at the House Telecommunications Subcommittee’s hearing on LPFM and H.R. 3439, the ‘Broadcasting Preservation Act of 1999.’
Eddie Fritts, Chairman, National Association of Broadcasters
“…the limited benefit of the “narrowcast” programming that will be provided by LPFM stations is likely to be low quality and of limited value.”
“While the FCC may think that it has no reason to believe that these amateur operators will not follow the rules, the fact is that the LPFM movement does have roots in pirate broadcasting.”
“…the choices for listeners have increased – not decreased to where “national play lists and syndicated programming” are prevalent…”
Kevin Klose, President, National Public Radio
“While recognizing that LPFM will never be a viable substitute for the services provided now to millions of listeners by the public radio community, we nevertheless believe there can be compatibility between a new LPFM service and public radio.”
“We are considering appropriate administrative and/or judicial processes to resolve these issues. NPR and our Member stations also are prepared to seek an appropriate and timely legislative solution.”
“NPR’s devotion to presenting ideas, whether news or cultural, engages audiences and enhances the connections between people in local communities and across the nation.”
Bruce Reese, Chairman, NAB Spectrum Integrity Task Force
“The combination of bad science, bad economics and ill-conceived social engineering that is the LPFM decision also creates all kinds of incentives for LPFM stations to cheat – whether on the technical standards or the educational/non-commercial requirements.”
“Don’t let misguided social policy and a disregard for scientific evidence undermine the investment we have made and the expectations that your constituents have for the sound of their FM radios.”
Charles L. Jackson, creator of the NAB’s ‘LPFM interference’ CD
“To summarize, the FCC did not use the right criterion when assessing the performance of FM receivers in the presence of interference. In particular, they used a measurement method that indicated no harmful interference where in fact, harmful interference would occur.”
“This is a serious error–roughly as bad as telling someone to suit up for a football game in a basketball uniform.”
Theodore S. Rappaport, author of the Media Access Project’s LPFM interference study
“My computer simulations demonstrate that “under the conservative proposal adopted by the FCC, in the absolute worst case, if all new LPFM stations used 100 Watts, then at most, 1.6 percent of listeners who could hear a new LPFM station might be unable to receive a currently-existing broadcast station.”
“More importantly, the large majority of the affected listeners would actually be able to receive all current stations, and other affected listeners would be able to receive an incumbent station by simply moving their radios a few feet or by rotating them on their nightstands.”
“The studies filed by some opponents of LPFM, unfortunately, lacked technical details or objectivity, and were based on the misguided premise that most FM radios today do not work properly. This is clearly not true.”
“There were many other issues which, as an engineer and reviewer, disturbed me and which would certainly disturb others if they were looking for objectivity.”
Don Schellhardt, co-founder, the Amherst Alliance
“Few of us in Amherst want to put Fox or Disney or ABC out of business. We just don’t want them to become so large, and control so much, that they smother everyone else.”
“It would indeed be a tragedy if Congress erased these hard-won gains on the basis of inflated fears, peddled solely by those with dollars to lose.”
“While you’re at it, direct the Justice Department to start enforcing the anti-trust laws again. One Microsoft case, every 20 years or so, isn’t enough.”
“Supporting the new Low Power Radio Service is quite literally THE LEAST that Congress can do. It is a minimal step…a down payment on real reform.”
Dirk Koning, Executive Director, Grand Rapids (MI) Community Media Center
“In an attempt to “jump start” democracy in South Africa, the Mandela Government launched community radio stations. Community radio was strategically chosen due to the low cost of implementation and operation, ability to serve niche communities with different languages and dialects, the lack of expense for the receivers and the ability to operate from solar power.”
“…In our market…Local news is funneled through less channels, local musicians are almost completely ignored for e-mailed play lists from “corporate” [broadcast clusters] and non English programming is virtually non existent.”