LPFM lite passage seen likely

Prevailing wisdom has low-power restrictions surviving in compromise spending bill

Bills that would restrict the FCC's low-power FM service and authorize federal loan guarantees for companies providing local TV service in rural areas are likely to become law, while the fate of a bill that would allow AT&T to hold on to all the assets it acquired when it bought MediaOne remains uncertain.

Congress last week passed a spending bill that would appropriate nearly $40 billion in funds for the departments of Commerce, Justice and State. It also includes money for the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The low-power FM and rural-TV measures were included in that bill.

Last Thursday, President Clinton said he would veto the spending package because it includes provisions the administration does not like on immigration, tobacco litigation and other issues. Clinton specifically singled out the LPFM initiative, which would only allow the FCC to roll out new low-power stations on channels that are four slots away from existing stations. The bill would require the FCC to conduct interference tests in nine markets on low-power stations that would broadcast three channels away from existing stations.

"I urge Congress to drop the rider that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from licensing new low-power FM radio stations to provide for a diversity of voices in communities around the country," Clinton wrote.

Although Clinton is likely to veto the Commerce, Justice, State bill, the low-power FM measure could well survive if the other provisions to which Clinton objects are removed.

The rural-TV bill is noncontroversial. It allocates $1.25 billion in federal loan guarantees for entities that would provide local TV service in rural areas. The bill would allow some cable operators to compete for the guarantees, a provision that was opposed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). It also requires the FCC to do independent tests to determine whether Northpoint Technology's planned spectrum-sharing video service would interfere with existing direct-broadcast satellite TV providers.

Meanwhile, the fate of a bill that would allow AT&T to hang on to all the assets it acquired when it purchased MediaOne remained unclear at press time. The only bill left to which Congress could attach it is one that allocates funds for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.

Sources say House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) oppose the AT&T provision, which is making it difficult to pass.

At deadline, Congress planned to adjourn this Tuesday (Oct. 31).