These are the media news headlines as read on the April 21 mediageek radioshow: FCC Announces Comment Deadlines on AT&T-BellSouth Merger; Commissioner Adelstein Acknowledges FCC Payola Investigation; Unlicensed Radio Harassed in Quad Cities and Ypsilanti
*FCC Announces Comment Deadlines on AT&T-BellSouth Merger*
With all the wrangling in Washington over the next round of telecommunications law, it’s easy to forget that the nation’s largest telephone company, AT&T, has put in a bid to become even bigger by buying BellSouth. However, the proposed merger still has to pass regulatory approval, and, believe it or not, the public does get some say in the matter.
On April 19 the Federal Communications Commission announced the deadlines for submitting comments on the AT&T-BellSouth merger. The Commission is now accepting comments, including petitions to deny, through June 5. After that date the Commission will be accepting comments in response to ones already filed-called reply comments-until June 20.
Consumer groups and public interest advocates are concerned that an AT&T-BellSouth merger would be a big step backwards, towards recreating the former AT&T monopoly. Only this time around there would be far fewer controls protecting the consumers and the public interest. Such a merger would give AT&T control an even larger portion of the nation’s broadband internet lines. The fear is that AT&T would move ahead with plans to charge fees to internet content providers for the bandwidth used by households that download their content. This tax would be levied on big players like Google and Yahoo, but also on independent media makers distributing their content on the internet… like mediageek.
For more information on the proposed AT&T-BellSouth merger, and instructions for filing your comments with the FCC, go to the mediageek website, at www.mediageek.net. Click on “Comment to the FCC’ on the right-hand side of the page.
*Commissioner Adelstein Acknowledges FCC Payola Investigation*
In other FCC news, the Commission has thrown its hat in the payola investigation ring. Up to now New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has led the charge in investigating the illegal practice of record companies paying radio stations to play their songs without alerting listeners to the fact that those plays were paid for.
Spitzer has already reached a deal with Sony/BMG music over its payola practices. And earlier this year announced a suit against Entercom Communications for allegedly accepting payola payments.
Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has been the loudest voice speaking out against payola at the Commission. On April 20, Adelstein released a public statement acknowledging that the FCC has begun an investigation into the practice and that the Commission has sent letters of inquiry on the matter to Clear Channel Communications, Entercom Communications, Citadel Communications and CBS Radio Inc, some of the nation’s largest radio broadcasters.
In his statement, Adelstein said, “I am pleased that we have launched this formal phase of the payola investigation. This should put to rest any question about the FCC’s commitment to enforce the law. Our investigation will be a thorough
and complete review of the industry’s alleged payola practices.”
According to news reports, the four companies cited by Adelstein have already been negotiating with Chairman Kevin Martin as part of an informal inquiry, but progress has been stalled because there has been no agreement of how much the broadcasters should pay in order to settle the matter. That lack of progress is what spurred the FCC to intensify its investigation.
Unlicensed Radio Harassed in Quad Cities and Ypsilanti
Turning now to the other side of FCC action, an unlicensed radio station in the Quad Cities was visited by the Commission on April 18, according to a report in the Quad-Cities online. The station, called Power 103.3, had only been operating for one week before the visit. The station’s two operators, Jason Duncan and Matthew Britcher, say that they are legally broadcasting without a license under the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 47, Section 3542: Application for emergency authorization. This section allows unlicensed stations to broadcast in situations such as war.
This section of the federal code has been cited by other pirate broadcasters in the past as a defense, although it has never been tested in court.
Duncan and Britcher said that they handed a printout of this regulation to the FCC agent when he attempted to visit their station. They did not let him enter the premises because the agent did not have a warrant. They were left with a Notice of Unlicensed Radio Operation.
Both men say they intend to file a motion in Federal Court to get an injunction against being shut down by the FCC, on the basis that such action would violate their first and fourth amendment constitutional rights. They also intend to file a motion to prevent the FCC from meeting privately with a federal judge without their presence.
Because the FCC only left a notice Power 103.3 remains on the air.
But a station in Ypsilanti, MI was less lucky. The pirate operating at 89.5 FM was shut down by the FCC during the week of April 17, according to the Ann Arbor News. The paper’s account does not say how the shutdown happened, or if the FCC conducted a raid.
DJ Johnny Danger said his station was running less than 100 watts of power – a level which is still not licensed by the FCC for stations that originate their own local programming.
Johnny Danger said that he has applied for a license but received no response from the FCC. He is considering applying once again.