After the FCC created the low-power FM radio service in 2000, Congressional Republicans in the pocket of the NAB made a last-minute backroom maneuver to add a major restriction to the service in a budget bill. The restriction requires 100-watt LPFM stations to be spaced on the dial the same as full-power stations as large as 100,000 watts, despite the so-called Mitre report to Congress that showed LPFMs pose no significant interference threat to full-power stations when spaced according to the FCC’s original specifications.
The effect of this restriction has been that most urban areas–including the top 50 radio markets–can’t have LPFM stations because there’s no space on the dial that meets these absurd standards.
So, today, House Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced the introduction of bipartisan bills to restore LPFM. This is now the third (or maybe fourth) attempt, with McCain being the Congressperson with the most tries under his belt.
Last year McCain succeeded in getting language through the Senate Commerce Committee as an amendment to an otherwise crappy telecom bill aimed at creating the national cable franchise. That bill never made it to the floor for a vote.
As a standalone bill I hope there’s a chance for this to pass and bring about hundreds of new community stations, especially in poorer urban neighborhoods that desperately need radically local community media. With the bipartisan support and a Democratic House, my guess is that there’s a good shot all around. The changes in the relevant committees should only help the situation, not hurt it.
But we can’t doubt the power of the broadcast lobby’s deep pockets to influence Congresscritters in both parties to scuttle the restoration of LPFM. Nor can we ignore the prospect of a veto, since Bush has never been a friend to LPFM or community media of any kind.
I think the stories of the Mississippi and Louisiana LPFMs that stayed on during Katrina might be supporter’s best shot and pulling Congressional heartstrings harder than their pursestrings.
On Friday’s radioshow (5:30 PM WEFT 90.1 FM Champaign, IL) I’ll have audio from the national press call held on Thursday, featuring comments from Reps. Doyle and Terry and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls. The show will be available online by Sunday midnight.