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Amendment One: Meanwhile, Back At the FCC...

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by Don Schellhardt

The last few editions of AMENDMENT ONE, including a SPECIAL EDITION that was published in late October, have focused entirely on events in the halls of Congress. This month we will travel a mile or so, from Capitol Hill to the FCC.

1. HEARINGS BY THE FCC’S LOCALISM TASK FORCE. Over the summer, as a partial response to Congressional critics of media consolidation, FCC Chairman Powell launched a new Localism Task Force. Composed of staffers drawn from across the FCC, the Task Force has a mandate to explore ways to promote greater localism in the broadcast media. It will then recommend policy changes to the 5 FCC Commissioners.

Written Comments regarding ways to promote localism may be filed at any time in FCC Docket RM-10803. However, the earliest filings are likely to have the greatest impact on the thinking of the Task Force, if only because they will help to set the agenda.

The Good News about the Localism Task Force is its impressively high energy level -- and its virtually unprecedented openness to input from everyday citizens in general and citizens “Outside The Beltway” in particular. The Task Force has already held Hearings in Charlotte (attended by 3 FCC Commissioners) and has scheduled 4 more regional Hearings around the country, climaxed by a sixth and final Hearing in Washington, D.C. The next Hearing is scheduled for San Antonio. The exact date is uncertain, but the Task Force plans to hold the Hearing in December (or possibly in January).

In all of the Hearings, the Task Force staff is making an effort to provide every attending member of the general public with at least 2 minutes of speaking time -- although, so far, this has minimum speaking time has not been absolutely guaranteed.

The Bad News includes the time frame for action. The Task Force plans to conclude its series of Hearings in June of 2004, with recommendations submitted to the 5 FCC Commissioners later that summer. The full Commission then plans to issue proposed rules in “the fall of 2004”.

Were I of a cynical frame of mind, I might note that this timing puts the possibility of reforms out before the voting public in time to be showcased for the general election -- but does not actually commit the FCC to reforms. The process leaves the final decisions pending, to be made after the 2004 elections.

Unfortunately, some reforms cannot wait another year for FCC deliberations to begin. Topping the list of emergency priorities is TRANSLATOR REFORM.

If current and prospective applicants for Low Power FM licenses have to wait until the winter of 2005 (at the earliest!!) for limits on the mass production of thousands of long distance translator applications by a single “non-profit” entity, they could discover that every otherwise available LPFM frequency in the country is already subject to a prior claim by the likes of Calvary Chapel. Some reforms can wait, but not this one.

2. MULTI-PARTY PETITION FOR EXPEDITED RELIEF. Seeing the need for immediate action on translator reform, THE AMHERST ALLIANCE and 49 other parties have filed today a Petition For Rulemaking with the FCC. The 50 Petitioning parties break Amherst’s previous record of 40 signatories on a Petition to the FCC, set in FCC Docket 99-325 by the October 11, 2002 Petition For Reconsideration of the FCC’s approval of “interim” In Band On Channel (IBOC) Digital Radio broadcasts.

Also known (at least to the Petitioners) as the “Petition For Expedited Relief”, the latest multi-party Petition identifies 5 specific proposals which should be separated from the rest and made the subject of “fast track” action by the full Commissioners -- instead of being left to the more deliberative pace of the Localism Task Force. Most of the proposals concern various types of translator and/or Service Status reform, but one proposal calls for allowing wattage and/or tower height adjustments when and if this is demonstrably necessary for restoring service areas eroded by IBOC interference.

The multi-party Petition has been sent to the FCC’s Office of the Secretary and has also been placed in the Task Force Docket (RM-10803). If you wish to endorse the Petition, with or without your own proposed changes to it, I encourage you to file supportive Written Comments in Docket RM-10803.

To obtain a copy of the Petition, and/or to add your name to the Petition retroactively, please contact me (Don Schellhardt) at

For a look at all of the recommendations that were made to the FCC’s Localism Task Force by THE AMHERST ALLIANCE, please see the Additional Written Comments that were filed in Docket RM-10803 November 14.

3. ENTER -- LOW POWER AM!! Back in June, FRED BAUMGARTNER, C.P.B.E. of Colorado filed with the FCC a Petition For Rulemaking to establish a new Low Power AM (LPAM) Radio Service. Fred’s name is well known in the broadcast engineering community, where he has been both a regional officer and a national officer in THE SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL BROADCAST ENGINEERS.

Fred’s Petition sets 30-watt LPAM stations as the standard, with 100-watt LPAM stations being allowed in areas where 20,000 people or less live within a 5-mile radius of the station.
Unfortunately, although the Petition was submitted to the FCC’s Office of the Secretary in June, by mid-September it had still not appeared on the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) -- which is reachable through

Fred re-submitted his Petition in September, but by late October it was still “Missing In Action” in the FCC’s publicly accessible records.

Longtime Low Power FM activist NICK LEGGETT of Virginia, who also backs Low Power AM, then hit upon the idea of filing the Baumgartner LPAM Petition within the body of Written Comments to the FCC’s Localism Task Force. Nick approached Fred Baumgartner, who agreed enthusiastically, and the two of them proceeded to file the Petition in FCC Docket RM-10803. The Leggett/Baumgartner filing was made on October 22, 2003.

On October 27, 2003, THE AMHERST ALLIANCE filed Written Comments which urged the FCC to start “the process” of considering the Baumgartner LPAM Petition. However, Amherst is withholding feedback on the details of this Petition until specific recommendations have been developed by the special LPAM TASK FORCE, chaired by KYLE DRAKE of Minnesota.

THE LPAM TASK FORCE was started by THE AMHERST ALLIANCE during the spring of 2003. However, Membership on the Task Force is not limited to Members of THE AMHERST ALLIANCE -- and non-Am’sters, notably including WILLIAM C. WALKER of WILW RADIO and KWAQ-AM, are already serving within this group.

Sources of potential controversy, within the LPAM TASK FORCE, include:

(1) The recommendation of Secondary Service Status for LPAM stations, which leaves them subject to displacement by full power AM stations and/or by long distance AM translators

(2) The proposed minimum mileage separation requirements for LPAM stations, with respect to full power stations, which are very cautious

(3) The absence of any dispute resolution mechanism for alleged interference between LPAM stations

(4) The recommendation that LPAM stations should be free to raise revenue
from commercials

(5) The limitation of LPAM stations to the 1610-1700 kilohertz (kHz) bands

(6) The restrictive recommendations regarding station operations

(7) The restrictive recommendations regarding program content


(8) The absence of a proposal for 250-watt LPAM stations in rural areas.

Should you wish to join the Task Force, and/or to learn more about it, please contact Kyle Drake at
Should you wish to obtain a copy of the Baumgartner LPAM Petition, please contact Kyle -- OR contact Nick Leggett at


As with the November 14 multi-party “Petition For Expedited Relief”, the placement of this Petition within Docket RM-10803 makes it permissible to address the LPAM Petition in Written Comments to the Localism Task Force. Therefore, if you want to endorse the LPAM Petition, with or without your own proposed changes to it, please file supportive Written Comments in Docket RM-10803.

LOW POWER FM CHANNEL SPACING (FCC ACTION ON THE MITRE REPORT). It might be just a coincidence, or it might be a straw in the wind. In any case, the following chronology appears worthy of note: SEPTEMBER 12 -- The FCC’s original deadline for Written Comments on the MITRE Corporation REPORT OCTOBER 3 -- The original “target date” for Congress to begin a 3-month break OCTOBER 14 -- The new deadline for Written Comments, re-scheduled by the FCC as a partial response to a request (for a 90-day deadline) by NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO NOVEMBER 14 -- Unexpectedly, Congress is still in Session, a month after the re-scheduled comment deadline at the FCC, but the FCC has not taken advantage of this opportunity by rushing its Report To Congress while Congress is still in town.

A WORD TO THE WISE: If the FCC’s Report To Congress doesn’t appear soon, it may be time to remind our Congressional allies to remind the FCC that its Report To Congress is already 33 months overdue.


As I hope all of you will recall, Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) spent several weeks attempting to recruit other Congressional legislators as co-signers of his letter to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IN). The letter urges the Speaker to allow a re-vote on his proposal for totally overriding the FCC’s June 2 decision to loosen its previously applicable ceilings on cross-media ownership and TV ownership.

This summer the House voted, by 252 to 172, to restore only the ceilings on TV ownership. Since then, however, the U.S. Senate has voted for a restoration of all media ownership ceilings, by a margin of 55-40 (with 5 Senators, including 3 Democratic Presidential candidates, “Missing In Action” for the vote). It has also become clear that a majority of the House would now vote to join the Senate, in support of total restoration, if the vote could be held today. However, Speaker Hastert and other House Republican leaders, following direct orders from aides to President Bush, have rigidly refused to allow such a re-vote.

Representative Hinchey had hoped to recruit a majority of the House for his letter.

The Bad News is that he “only” gained 205 legislators (with 4 of them non-voting Delegates from Guam, American Samoa and the District of Columbia). He needs 17 more signatures to have a majority of the voting Members of the House.

The Good News is that Representative Hinchey, aided in part by communications to Congress from people like YOU, went from 120 signatories to 205 signatures in roughly 3 weeks. In addition, there is a margin for growth between now and the time when Congress re-convenes in January. In particular, 14 House Republicans who voted for the Hinchey Amendment last summer have still not signed the Hinchey letter -- presumably out of reluctance to offend or embarrass the House Republican leaders. A little more pressure from their constituents back home might shore up their independence.


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