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Feature: First Skirmish

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3/16/99

Things may seem like they're moving at a quick pace, but this is just a flurry of activity before great lull before the next Big Phase in the legalization of low-power FM.

While supporters of a low-power radio service continue to work on their comments and enlightening more people to what may lie on their radio dial, the National Association of Broadcasters is finally grinding into motion. The first meeting of its LPFM "war council," otherwise known as the Spectrum Integrity Task Force, met last week, undoubtedly laying out the long-term strategy in the fight against legalization.

On the NAB's own website duscission boards, LPFM doesn't appear to be drawing much interest. A whopping two posts have been made about the subject, touting all the economic harm that LPRS will supposedly do to "small" stations. Not even a clap from the audience. Either most commercial broadcasters today are woefully Internet-illiterate or don't really much care about LPFM becoming a reality.

The NAB has a request to extend the deadline for comments and replies on the LPFM proposal until October, which would effectively keep all possible movement forward on the idea bottled up for at least another six months. It claims it wants to use the time to do "studies" on what "interference" LPFM may cause its members' over-valued "broadcast properties."

Translated, this means two things: the first is manufacture a
"spin" on the technical data - painting as terrible a picture of signal interference as it can. The second is to lobby as much support in Congress as possible for a potential end run around the FCC completely.

LPFM proponents haven't been napping, either. The Amherst Alliance, frustrated with all of the delays in action, fired off written correspondence to the FCC in tones that were not completely diplomatic on the issue:

5 months passed from the initial RM-9208 Notice in February of 1998 to the closing of the comment period in July of 1998. After that, another 6 months passed from the close of comments to the issuance of a Proposed Rule in late January of 1999.

At any point in this total "window" of 15 months, the NAB could have conducted its study. Failing that, it could have at least promised the FCC that a study would be completed and submitted by "a date certain". Instead, it didn't even START a study.

Whatever its "official" explanation may be, the truth is obvious. The mighty NAB was "asleep at the wheel." Almost certainly, the slumber was born of overconfidence: the NAB was simply too arrogant to take Low Power Radio seriously. In short: the dog ate its homework. To put the same point less playfully, the NAB is effectively asking the FCC to shield it from the consequences of its own arrogance.

Any more delays marks a small victory for the NAB. It will have given itself more time to swing its massive lobbying resources into action.

For its part, the FCC is playing the whole LPFM issue very cool for now. The latest movements of the radio police have been tracked to Milwaukee, where two unlicensed stations are both under current surveillance. But in a strange departure from procedure, the FCC made no move to make its presence secret, with vehicles and uniforms out in full view. One of the "agents" doing his work actually hand-delivered the warning letter to one station. At the other, no official contact has been made, but an FCC enforcement staffer emailed the station with a bunch of low-power radio documentation attached.

So, again, goes out the plea for support. The FCC is only a click away, and it doesn't take long to drop them a quick message to let them know your displeasure at the NAB's recent tactical move. Don't forget about those LPFM proposal comments - every voice really does count on this issue.