I was heartened to see that the requisite committees of the House of Representatives and Senate have both endorsed complementary bills that would expand the FCC’s low-power FM (LPFM) service toward votes on the floors of the respective chambers. Those working the issue in D.C. are very optimistic that Congress will pass both versions of the Local Community Radio Act, harmonize them, and send a version to President Obama by the end of this Congressional session.
In a highly-symbolic yet positive move last week, all five Federal Communications Commissioners told a House oversight hearing on FCC policies whether or not they support the creation of new low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations. The answer was unanimous: “yes, we will.”
So, all that now needs to happen is for Congress to pass the long-languishing Local Community Radio Act (80 cosponsors in the House, and seven in the Senate at last count), and new LPFM stations will bloom like flowers in springtime, right?
And the operative word here is, indeed, “hope.” The Local Community Radio Act has been reintroduced in Congress. Honestly, I’ve lost track of the number of times that a bill to undo the 2001 legislative evisceration of the FCC’s Low-Power FM radio service has been put forward; this year it’s come out of the starting gate with more momentum than ever – something like two dozen sponsors in the House (there is no companion bill yet in the Senate).
Media reform groups are putting out the call for the citizen-calvary to flood lawmakers with correspondence asking for quick action on this legislation. While it never hurts to raise the profile of this languishing yet important issue, a reality check is called for as well.
A pleasant surprise: last week, during the FCC’s monthly meeting, the Commission was to vote on a disastrous plan to give all AM stations a buttload of FM translators, gratis. However – and somewhat true to form for Chairman Kevin Martin’s tenure – the item was pulled from consideration at the last minute. An unnamed source within the FCC reportedly says this is not just a short-term delay; the FM translator giveaway is not slated to be on October’s agenda, either.
Some trade publication, whose name escapes me now (because I didn’t bookmark to their miniscule blurb on the subject), claims that it is the “forces of LPFM” which have delayed the translator giveaway. Not sure what that’s supposed to mean: the “forces of LPFM” are not nearly as organized as they were just a few short months ago, when they lost their most talented and driven public-interest lobbyist for greener pastures. This is a loss that, frankly, cannot be adequately replaced.
It appears that the U.S. Senate may be moving toward a floor vote on the Local Community Radio Act. This bill originally began under the auspices of undoing the Congressional fiat in 2001 which severely restricted the promulgation of new low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations. By imposing draconian channel-spacing regulations on the new service, LPFM stations were precluded from being sited in areas of the nation in which 80% of the population lives.
The Local Community Radio Act has been the focus of a seven-year campaign to right this wrong. Most importantly, it would relax channel-spacing rules for LPFM stations (allowing them to be placed in more urban areas) and give LPFM stations a semblance of parity with regard to other classes of FM station. This would make LPFMs less susceptible to being bumped off the air by a larger station looking to move or otherwise modify its own transmission infrastructure.