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Feature: All's Not Well

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1/23/00

On the heels of the FCC's vote to create a low power radio service, advocates of LPFM - who've fought long and hard for more than a year on the issue - are celebrating. It's a well-deserved morale boost, but by no means does the FCC's action victory.

The war over LPFM is a multi-front battle, and while advocates have made substantial gains in front of the FCC, more dangerous fronts still remain.

The Federal Communications Commission, like any other government agency, operates at the whim of Congress. It is Congress who sets the FCC's funding level, and it's Congress who tells the FCC what to do by crafting the laws that imbue the agency with its power.

Right now, in the House of Representatives, Rep. Michael Oxley's bill to kill low power radio is alive and well. Introduced as the House adjourned for 1999, the bill would effectively kill any action the FCC takes on low power radio, and prevent the agency from taking up such an idea ever again.

The thought behind it is, "If you can't play by the rules, change them."  As the FCC's vote last week to legalize low power radio drew closer, the radio industry was not devoting its time, energy and resources to derailing the proposal. Instead, Big Broadcasting redoubled its efforts to ram the anti-LPFM bill through Congress.

Major broadcast groups have been holding special "brieifing sessions" with their Representatives over the past two months, "educating" them on the folly of the FCC's actions and lobbying them to co-sponsor and support the bill. Undoubtedly, more than a few campaign donation checks have also exchanged hands.

The gamble is a big one: while the American public was able to shout louder than the pleadings of the broadcasters and got the FCC to listen, Congress is a much bigger arena. This is where the broadcast lobby has its true power - it has the advantage of having lobbyists on Capitol Hill to make sure our elected officials hear their message loud, clear - and repeatedly.

Apparently, the radio industry is making headway. It takes 218 votes to get the anti-LPFM bill passed in the House of Representatives; as of January 31, the National Association of Broadcasters has managed to persuade 56 Representatives to sign onto the bill. More are expected.  While it's a far cry from a majority, it is nonetheless already too many for comfort.

There's also a push now to introduce a companion anti-LPFM bill in the U.S. Senate - New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg is expected to introduce the bill soon after Congress begins its 2000 session this week. The Senate tends to be a more deliberative body - but the NAB only needs 51 votes to get it through.

The only thing that will derail this scheme to destroy all the gains made so far is the same thing that convinced the FCC to approve low power radio to begin with - a massive outcry of public support for the idea. And it's important to make your elected representatives realize what the people want right now - while their minds are still uncluttered at the start of a new Congressional session.

Every letter or email a lawmaker gets is often assigned a value for the number of constituents it represents. For Representatives, each letter or email is counted as the opinions of anywhere from dozens to hundreds of voters; for Senators, it ranges between the hundreds and thousands. So if you write a letter or send an email opposing anti-LPFM legislation, you're actually speaking with more than one voice!

While the FCC's low power FM radio plan is not perfect, it is a move in the right direction. But if we lose the battle in Congress, we lose it all. If you don't have the time or inclination to compose your own letter, use the one on the next page.

All our courage and conviction to this point has humbled the most powerful special interest in America. But one defeat only makes the defeated grow more convinced to win the next time. That next time is now - and we simply can't afford to lose!

Information on where to mail or email your own Congressfolk can be found at visi.com, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Project Vote Smart or at the House of Representatives or Senate websites.

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