Budget bill limits reach of low-power radio
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DECEMBER 19, 2000

Low-power radio is due for a big shutoff even before it got started, thanks to the massive spending bill approved by Congress last week.

American Indian community groups, churches, schools, and non-profits all stand to lose once President Bill Clinton signs the budget bill. Over a thousand organizations have applied for low-power FM radio licenses which would allow them to broadcast local programming often not available on private or public radio.

But in response to lobbying from the commercial and private radio sector, lawmakers added a provision to the spending bill passed last Friday night which limits the areas in which the FCC can issue the licenses. The bill restricts the new stations to nine test markets, preventing the FCC from authorizing all the stations they had expected.

"Low-power FM radio will allow new voices to serve small niche community markets not currently being served by existing radio stations," said FCC Chairman William Kennard in response to the bill. "Thus I regret that so many of our nation's schools, churches and community-based organizations will not have the benefit of this opportunity."

The primary argument against the new stations is technical. Opponents, including National Public Radio (NPR) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a radio lobbying group, say the new stations would interfere with the programming of current broadcasters.

"We are pleased that Congress has protected radio listeners against additional interference that would have been caused by the FCC low-power FM radio initiative," said Edward O. Fritts, head of the NAB. "NAB’s central concern related to LPFM was the harm it would cause listeners through additional interference."

In large cities where the radio dial is crowded with offerings, the low-power stations, which are often run by non-professionals, could cause havoc, opponents warned.

But low-power FM supporters say these fears are unfounded. Operators can purchase equipment which would prevent interference for several dollars, they say. They also point to the tests the FCC has done in assuring the viability of the new stations.

Regardless of the technical arguments, supporters like the Media Access Project, a non-profit public interest law firm, say the legislation has effectively cut back the FCC program by 80 percent.

On Friday, the FCC had announced plans to accept new applications for low-power stations in several states, but warned prospective operators that pending legislation could affect the program.

Relevant Links:
Low-Power FM, the FCC -
The Federal Communications Commission -
National Public Radio -
The National Association of Broadcasters -
Media Access Project -

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