Capital Watch - Broadcasting & Cable

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FCC Levies First RFR Fine

The FCC has levied its first-ever fine on a violator of its RFR (radio-frequency radiation) exposure limits. It has fined KTMN(FM) Cloudcroft, N.M., $10,000 for violating limits on tower-based transmitters, as well as an additional $18,000 for other violations.

The station's transmitting antenna, mounted on a Park Service observation tower, was mounted lower than authorized and, at only 40% of its authorized power, created fields that exceeded radiation limits by more than 300%, according to the FCC. The rules have been around "forever," although stations have always gotten off with a warning, according to the FCC Enforcement Bureau's John Winston, but that was for apparently accidental violations. This, Winston explained, appeared to be otherwise. It was also a particularly egregious case because of the extent to which the exposure exceeded the limits.

The station was also fined $8,000 for failing to install Emergency Alert equipment, $7,000 for failure to have a main studio and another $3,000 for "failure to have adequate transmission control."

Congress OKs Web Fees

Small Webcasters will have until Dec. 15 to negotiate deals with copyright owners that will allow them to keep their nascent businesses "on the air." Pending President Bush's signature, the new law allows voluntary agreements to override a fee schedule established by the Copyright Office last spring that smaller operators can't afford.

The new law also was supported by large broadcasters, which feared that an earlier version would have set a royalty precedent that, if applied to their streaming business, could have meant a huge increase in royalty fees. If that template had applied to commercial broadcasters, revenue from radio and TV ads would be included in the royalty calculations, as would cash from any additional entertainment businesses the station owners control. The new legislation simply allows small Webcasters to enter into voluntary agreements without liability for ignoring Copyright Office fees.

EchoStar Reclaims Ka-band

EchoStar will get a chance to launch its new Ka-band satellite after all. The FCC last week reinstated the company's license to launch and operate EchoStar 9, a hybrid Ku/Ka-band satellite under construction by Loral.

In July, the FCC ruled that EchoStar failed to meet its January 2002 deadline to begin construction of the necessary satellite and declared the license void. In appealing the decision, though, the company said that not only had it begun building the bird but construction was complete and launch had been scheduled for the fourth quarter.

With roughly six weeks left in the year, EchoStar officials are reviewing options for scheduling. EchoStar plans to generate Ka- and Ku-band transmissions from EchoStar 9. Originally, the FCC complained that EchoStar's contracts with Loral did not guarantee that the Ka-band transponders would be operational. Data submitted by Loral convinced the FCC that the hybrid plan should work. The Ku-band generally is used for DBS transmission, whereas the Ka-band is considered choice ground for high-speed data and interactive.

LACK backs MSNBC

NBC President and ex-newsman Andrew Lack gave a vote of confidence to ratings-challenged MSNBC last week.

In a Media Institute luncheon speech in D.C., he conceded that third-place MSNBC is struggling with its talk format and credited Fox and CNN for doing well with their opinion-based programs. He said MSNBC "will pull themselves out of it. I'm not concerned." Programming is cyclical, he said; MSNBC is just going through "a rough patch." They, and all cable news operations, he said, are doing good journalism. Though they're fighting for a small audience, Lack called it a very valuable, important and influential audience.

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