In the Wake of Prometheus, Media Ownership Still Sucks

The following is a guest commentary by friend and colleague Dr. Christopher Terry, a Lecturer of Media Law and Policy in the Department of Journalism, Advertising and Media Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He spent more than 15 years as a producer in commercial radio. His dissertation examined more than 1000 FCC media ownership decisions between 1996-2010, and he has published quite a bit on media diversity, political advertising and of course, media ownership policy. Contact him via e-mail or Twitter

Today marks four years have since the 3rd Circuit handed down a second remand of the FCC’s media ownership policy in Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC. I thought we might take the opportunity of this anniversary to discuss how radio got so bad.

On February 8th, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into the law the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Provisions within the Telecommunications Act implemented significant changes the legal, policy and social dynamics of media ownership. Although these changes could be felt across the media spectrum, the radio industry was fundamentally changed by the FCC’s implementation of the legislation. Read More

AM Broadcasters Still Seek Translators, Digital Authorization

When the FCC announced the creation of an “AM Revitalization Initiative” in 2013, the proposal included a grab-bag of industry desires, such as the right for AM stations to utilize FM translators and for AM stations to move from hybrid analog/digital broadcasting to the all-digital AM-HD protocol. But to the consternation of industry lobbyists and HD-backers there’s been no movement on this initiative — so now they’re beginning to whine about it.

Case in point is a commentary published in late June by Frank Montero, an attorney at D.C. communications law powerhouse Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, which laments that AM broadcasters are being held hostage without access to FM translators and accuses the FCC of playing political football with the future of AM itself. It’s full of questionable assertions and revisionist history. Read More

CBRS: A Foray Into Spectrum Sharing

Earlier this spring the FCC announced the creation of what it calls the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) — a swath of spectrum between 3.5-3.7 GHz that will be opened to both licensed and unlicensed services. This spectrum has traditionally been reserved for military radar and satellite uplinks; now it may become a sandbox for dynamic use of the public airwaves.

This particular slice of spectrum falls between two established Wi-Fi allocations, so one obvious potential use is for the provision of last-mile (or last-foot) broadband access. Incumbent users (the Navy and satellite ground stations) will remain on the band, but they’re so geographically sparse that for all intents and purposes this spectrum has been fallow in the majority of the United States. Under CBRS, instead of licensing devices to work on a particular channel within a band, they will be effectively permitted to use the entire band. The devices themselves will be programmed to sniff the local airwaves to find and utilize non-congested channels in its immediate area. Google is developing a database of CBRS users and devices that will be updated in real-time based on operating feedback from the devices themselves — the Internet of Things coming to life. Read More

In Face of Downsizing, Are FCC Agents Pulling Back?

Can’t say for sure, but the latest update to the Enforcement Action Database seems to suggest it, as the agency considers drastically cutting their already meager ranks. As of the end of April, there’ve been just 35 enforcement actions against 17 stations in four states. There has been no official report of field activity in May. In 2014, there were 52 enforcement actions in the same time-frame.

2014 saw the lowest level of FCC enforcement activity against unlicensed broadcasters in nearly a decade. Where agents are active, New York continues to lead the way, followed by New Jersey and California. A station in Colorado also got a warning letter this year, but that was a follow-up to a visit last year. Read More

250-Watt LPFM “Upgrade” Petition Filed

This is the work of Michelle Bradley, the proprietor of REC Networks – arguably one of the most gifted FCC broadcast data-analysts in the country. REC’s been engaged with LPFM since its inception 15 years ago, and has tendered a petition for rulemaking to create an upgraded LP-250 station-class.

The premise is simple: 100 watts maximum power at just 100 feet above the ground doesn’t make for much of an FM signal. Many LPFM stations are difficult to receive indoors. REC starts off the petition with a litany of LPFM reception horror-stories (my favorite being the retirement facility in North Carolina where the local LPFM station can be heard on one side of the campus, but not the other). These vividly illustrate how LPFM’s current power/height restrictions work against stations being able to build viable and sustainable listenership and fiscal sponsorship. Read More