FCC Proposes Re-Legalization
The reasons for the FCC's relegalization of LPFM were two-fold. Two parties had filed petitions asking the agency to do it, and there had been a massive explosion in the number of LPFM "pirates" since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
These two reasons go hand-in-hand and neither of them could have accomplished anything if they had occurred separately. RM-9208 and -9242 wouldn't have made it out of the circular file if the FCC couldn't see the public demand for the service. They had that evidence from the radio cops' case load. And the "pirates" wouldn't have gotten the Commission to listen to their demands if two sets of kindred spirits hadn't formally engaged them in dialogue.
After placing the two proposals out for public comment, the FCC received hundreds of responses, overwhelmingly in favor of re-legalizing LPFM. In 1998 alone, the Commission fielded more than 20,000 inquiries from citizens who wanted to start their own stations. It was pressured to act, plain and simple.
On January 28, 1999, the FCC released MM 99-25, its own formal proposal to create a new LPFM service. The five-member commission was not unanimously in favor of advancing the idea, though: only two of the five, Chairman William Kennard and Commissioner Gloria Tristani, were wholeheartedly in support of it.
"We cannot deny opportunities to those who want to use the airwaves to speak to their communities simply because it might be inconvenient for those who already have these opportunities," said the two in a joint statement the day the LPFM proposal was released.
Commissioners Susan Ness and Michael Powell were skeptical about the idea. While both approved of LPFM in concept, they worried about the technical challenges of both implementing and enforcing the service.
Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth, however, hated the idea. "Good -- arguably better, even -- alternatives for the dissemination of messages in America certainly exist," he said. "And the administrative burdens on the Commission will likely be great. Accordingly, I do not think this proposal represents an efficient use of radio spectrum."
A look into Furchtgott-Roth's pre-FCC background partly explains his opposition; in the three years before being appointed to the Commission, Furchtgott-Roth was a high-level staffer for the U.S. House Committee on Commerce.
It's the House committee most-lobbied by the NAB, as it handles the House's oversight of the FCC. His public statement on the day of MM 99-25's release unabashedly mirrors the things the NAB and other broadcast special interests had been saying during the debate over the initial two LPFM proposals.