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Feature: The Senate Skirmish

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5/8/00

After a short breather thanks to a Congressional recess, both friends and foes of the FCC's new low power radio plan have regrouped and are beginning to reorganize their efforts in the fight for LPFM's survival.

The Senate is now back in session, and while action on a bill to kill low power radio in the House of Representatives was quick, all signs point to a much slower go in the second Congressional forum.

The Senate anti-LPFM bill remains in its Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, whose chairman is none other than Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), failed Presidential contender and radio industry friend.

Today, Senator McCain rose to the floor of the Senate to introduce an alternative to the "Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000," currently waiting for action in his committee.

His alternative is not much better than the bill the House voted on - and may be slightly worse.

McCain calls S. 2518 the "FM Radio Act of 2000." Surprisingly enough, the bill does not gut the potential allowable number of LPFM stations by some 80% (like the House bill does), but for those that get on the air - if they create ANY interference to another station - McCain's bill puts them on the legal hook for significant damages.

The Committee has yet to schedule any action on either bill, although that could happen without much warning. Currently, even without much action, the "Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000" has collected 30 sponsors and co-sponsors.

In preparation for the Senate fight, advocates and opponents are ramping up the lobbying pressure.

The Media Access Project, a major supporter of the FCC's legalization efforts, and the Public Media Center teamed up and bought full-page advertisements last week in The Washington Post, New York Times, a dozen other regional newspapers, and several college campus publications in support of LPFM.

The ad makes for interesting reading.  It attacks the National Association of Broadcasters, who's been the biggest opponent of low power radio; it accuses the special interest group of trying to "keep broadcasting in the hands of corporations," thereby guaranteeing that the FM dial "sounds the same everywhere."

Included in the ad is a simple coupon-style cutout that interested readers can fill out and mail in to their Members of Congress asking them to oppose the anti-LPFM bill.

Much of the grassroots effort dedicated to getting low power radio rolling, however, seems to have petered out. While members of the Prometheus Radio Project continue to toil, neighborhood by neighborhood, to spread the word about LPFM, many of the thousands of people that filed comments with the FCC in support of the LPFM plan are nowhere to be seen or heard.

Some of them, apparently, are busy filling out the FCC's new LPFM station application, of which the first are due for 10 states, the District of Columbia and one territory (the Marianas Islands) between May 30 and June 5.

Meanwhile, the number of unlicensed radio stations in the United States continues to grow.  Those who have taken the route of civil disobedience have gotten focused back on their main goal - to prove that low power radio does work, both technically and socially.  Frankly, the time has never been better to take to the airwaves.

Big Broadcasting's Machine on the Move

Those who are trying to kill low power radio have also been very busy. Shortly after the FCC released its LPFM plan, the National Association of Broadcasters filed suit in D.C. District Federal Court to try and get the new ruling overturned.

The FCC filed a request to delay the NAB's case, but the D.C. District Court of Appeals denied it. The NAB expects to argue the case in front of a judge in October.

In addition to the legal maneuvering, the political action is ramping up as well. The NAB is asking its members to flood Senators with calls (and cash).

In the NAB's own words: "With proponents of LPFM running full-page ads in major newspapers and ramping up their lobbying, broadcasters must respond in kind."

To help its effort, the on May 3rd the trade group dispatched a "Broadcaster Alert" to direct the main thrust of the lobbying effort. The strategy is to paint LPFM advocates' opposition to its bill as irrelevant while kissing the ring of Congress and its power over the FCC.

Included as part of this "Alert" is a point-by-point refutation of FCC Chairman William Kennard's attack against the NAB that he launched following the House's approval of the anti-LPFM bill.

Entitled, "Interference is NOT a Red Herring," it attempts to poke Chairman Kennard's arguments full of holes.

Specifically interesting is how the NAB addresses the existence of the 312 (it only identifies 164)  currently-licensed full-power FM stations that have been operating for decades under "special permission" identical to LPFM's proposed technical interference standards (In the talking points guide, they've become "mistakes" made more than 50 years ago).

The NAB repeatedly calls itself "reasonable" and "justifiable," backed by its "wealth of evidence" to justify gutting the new low power radio rules.

Even so, it's clear that LPFM's arch-enemy is not completely confident on its chances of getting the Senate to play along in its game. "How we will proceed in the Senate remains to be seen," says the NAB's "Broadcaster Alert."

"There are any number of ways the Senate could address LPFM. But as we saw in the House, the more co-sponsors we sign up, the stronger our case is with whatever approach is taken."

It will be interesting to see the next round of federal Congressional campaign finance disclosure filings, available in July. If things are getting this hot in public, it must be stifling in the proverbial smoke-filled room.