Minor revisions to low-power plan don’t satisfy broadcasters

Thursday, September 28, 2000

The Federal Communications Commission last week tweaked its plan to
issue hundreds of licenses to low-power radio stations, creating protections
regulators say will maintain air space for radio-reading services for the blind
and create a streamlined complaints process for large radio stations.

But the nation’s largest broadcasters and those providing the
radio-reading services continue to oppose the FCC’s newest licensing efforts,
although they don’t object specifically with its goal to place more stations on
the dial.

For them, this issue remains: Federal regulators are crowding too many
stations onto a limited radio dial.

“The FCC is still not dealing with the interference issues as far as
we’re concerned,” said Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Association
of Broadcasters.

The revisions came on Sept. 22 as the FCC affirmed its January
decision to create a licensing plan for stations operating between 10 to 100
watts of power. Commissioners approving the plan say they hope the new
low-power FM or LPFM stations would create more diversity of voices on the
nation’s airwaves.

“I have always been confident that LPFM can be implemented without
disturbing the integrity of the existing FM service,” FCC Chairman William
Kennard said last week.

To date, the FCC has accepted more than 1,300 applications for the new
licenses and plans to open several more application windows over the next 10
months. Commissioners say they may be close to awarding their first batch of
low-power licenses.

But the plan faces several obstacles.

Congress continues to consider legislation that would force the FCC to
adhere to former interference standards. And then there is a lawsuit, filed by
the nation’s largest commercial and public broadcasters, that seeks to wipe
away the low-power stations almost entirely. Oral arguments in that case are
scheduled for Nov. 29 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The NAB and National Public Radio say the new licenses would infringe
on existing broadcasters and asked the FCC to maintain existing

The FCC, in its action last week, responded to concerns that the
low-power stations would interfere with reading services for the blind and
visually impaired. Those stations provide narration of books and other
publications on subcarrier channels.

The commission adopted new protections for FM stations providing such
services by requiring more space between them and the new low-power

An NPR spokesman said the group wasn’t prepared to comment on the new

“We have consistently affirmed our belief that LPFM can coexist in a
complimentary, compatible way with America’s public radio stations and radio
reading services in the future,” NPR President Kevin Klose said in a statement.
“It is especially important to protect the radio reading services that serve
more than a million regular listeners.”

Ben Martin, president of the International Association of Audio
Information Services, said he appreciates the FCC’s efforts to adopt
protections but is still concerned about interference.

“If this is something a main FM channel is concerned about, this is
absolutely something the smaller channels should be concerned about as well,”
Martin said in a telephone interview. “We want to ensure that future reader
services may come on to the air. We want to be able to serve their

The FCC, although it didn’t respond directly to the concerns of large
broadcasters, created a new interference-complaint procedure. If more than 1%
of a full-power FM station’s listeners complained about interference, the FCC
would immediately address the concerns.

First, FCC field agents would attempt to work out a resolution between
the full-power station and the low-power station. If they didn’t reach a
solution, the commission would conduct a review that would have to be completed
within three months.

Wharton of the NAB said the threshold of irate listeners seems

“What does ’1 percent of listeners’ mean?” Wharton asked in a
telephone interview. “Does that mean 1 percent of radio listeners in the area,
or listeners of a particular station at a particular time, or is it a
percentage of the audience based on Arbitron ratings?

“The FCC’s actual order isn’t out yet, so we would have to see the
details,” he said.