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Committed to the First Amendment 7/20/2003 08:00:00 PM Eastern

FCC Says Low Power to You

Back in 2000, when then FCC Chairman Bill Kennard was pushing low-power FM as a way to add diverse voices to the radio dial, we seconded the NAB's concerns about possible interference to existing stations and applauded Congress's decision to disallow third-channel adjacencies to ensure sufficient separation between the new stations and existing full-power stations. After all, the FCC's version of the Hippocratic oath ought to be, "As regards signal interference, first, do no harm." At the time, the FCC's own studies were not conclusive about whether allowing LPFMs as close as third-channel adjacencies would create undue harm to existing operators. Having seen the studies, which showed essentially the same levels of interference but quite different interpretations of potential harm, then-commissioner Michael Powell said, "I have to be honest, I have no idea as to whether existing broadcasters will suffer intolerable interference."

Although Congress pared back the potential LPFM population, it also directed the FCC to conduct a new study on whether third-channel adjacency actually represented an interference threat. Well, that study is out, and it concludes that third-channel adjacencies might be OK after all. We have to be honest, we don't know whether this newest study is the last word or just the latest chapter. But the effect of Congress's move was to reduce the number of LPFM stations allowed (though we note 744 CPs have been granted), particularly in urban areas, where, logic might dictate, they would be most attractive in an effort to reach diverse communities. As we have said before, LPFMs should not be allowed to overcrowd the band to the detriment of current occupants, but they should not be reined in to protect the business plans of existing broadcasters, either. If broadcasters have reasons why this most recent study should not hold sway, they'd better speak now (or by the Sept. 12 comment deadline). You'll remember that Sen. John McCain was a big fan of LPFMs and no fan of the move to curtail them.

Wolf at the Door

Our thanks go out to Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees FCC funding, for illustrating how easily media regulation becomes content regulation.

In explaining his reasons for voting to roll back the ownership cap to 35%, Wolf cited, among other things, Joe Millionaire. It would be funny if he weren't so serious. In his list of network offenses, he also included Bachelor
and Bachelorette, as well as the lack of network news coverage of his press conference on prison rape. Those offenses, he said, are part of what prompted him to vote to override the FCC's new rules and undo the work of the better part of two years by an agency whose expertise Congress has historically given great deference. So the message from Washington to the media last week was: You had better cover what we want you to cover, and you'd better not put on what we don't want you to put on. We are far more troubled by that scenario than by letting networks own a few more stations.

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