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News Archive: September 2009

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9/21/09 - Congress Supports LPFM, But Will It Move The FCC? [link to this story]

In a highly-symbolic yet positive move last week, all five Federal Communications Commissioners told a House oversight hearing on FCC policies whether or not they support the creation of new low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations. The answer was unanimous: "yes, we will."

So, all that now needs to happen is for Congress to pass the long-languishing Local Community Radio Act (80 cosponsors in the House, and seven in the Senate at last count), and new LPFM stations will bloom like flowers in springtime, right?

Not quite: as I wrote about six months ago, getting Congress to remove artificial technical hamstrings on the service is just the first step toward a real, bona-fide expansion of the LPFM service. The FCC has a lot on its plate, FM broadcast spectrum has been gobbled up in the meantime, and Chairman Julius Genakowski seems much more focused on broadband issues than "plain old media" stuff.

In this case especially, the devil's in the crumbs. When the FCC approved an LPFM service nearly 10 years ago, it proposed two classifications - LP-100 (stations maxed at 100 watts of power) and LP-10 (stations maxed at 10 watts of power).

Were the FCC to change the parameters of the LPFM service to give it more parity with its neighbors on the dial, the major growth in the LPFM service would not come from new LP-100 stations, but rather from those in the LP-10 category. These are much more likely to fit into urbanized areas, but are classified as a lower-priority station when compared even to LP-100 operations.

Unfortunately, the FCC has never issued an LP-10 license yet (much less opened a window to apply for one), and flowery rhetoric aside there appears no plans to do so anytime soon.

9/10/09 - FCC Names New Top Cop [link to this story]

The new chief of the agency's Enforcement Bureau is P. Michelle Ellison, who will assume her duties as of September 28.

Interestingly, Ms. Ellison was not part of the Enforcement Bureau (typically they like to promote from within their own bureaus). Instead, she's a lawyer - (soon to be former) "Deputy General Counsel, a position she has held for the last twelve years, and most recently served as Acting General Counsel of the FCC through July 2009."

Ms. Ellison also helped Mingon Clyburn make the transition to Commissioner earlier this year. In addition, she's handled "complex FCC litigation before the federal courts and varied practice at the agency, from her initial years of handling complex FCC litigation before the federal courts to here current focus on competition policy in the context of mergers and acquisitions and on spectrum and fraud matters involving billions in auctions and universal service funds."

Perhaps the high-point of the announcement is Ms. Ellison's co-chairmanship of the Commission's Localism Task Force. While said Task Force hasn't done a whole hell of a lot in the last year and a half, it would seem prudent to assume that Ms. Ellison understands the importance of localism to the media environment.

Whether this will change the Enforcement Bureau's policy toward unlicensed broadcasting is unclear, but for the first time in a while the FCC's top cop at least may have a clue as to why people risk contravening a law just in order to speak to each other. It's a lot to expect from a career lawyer, though.

Electronic civil disobedience will still most likely be the only way to get on the radio dial where you live - FCC staff report there are no plans to move along the LPFM proceeding anytime this year.