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Low-power radio's friends, foes argue against FCC plan

By The Associated Press

11.29.00

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WASHINGTON — Two groups normally at odds — commercial broadcasters and pirate radio operators — both argued yesterday against a government plan to license hundreds of new low-power FM stations.

This time, the challenges to the Federal Communications Commission's low-power proposal came in court, where attorneys representing the broadcast industry insisted that adding stations to an already crowded FM dial would cause interference with existing channels.

Under the low-power plan, adopted last January, churches, community groups and schools could apply for 1,000 low-power stations operating at 10 and 100 watts with signal ranges of between four and seven miles.

The National Association of Broadcasters, the industry's chief lobbying group, mounted a legal challenge and lobbied against the commission's effort on Capitol Hill. Yesterday, the group told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the FCC failed to grasp the significant cost to FM listeners of implementing the service.

A lawyer arguing before the three-judge panel on behalf of radio pirates raised different concerns: that the FCC's eligibility requirements would unfairly prevent those who had once broadcast without a license from applying to run a new low-power station.

Under the commission's rules, pirate broadcasters, who operate unlicensed stations, can apply only if they stop unlicensed broadcasts within 24 hours after being reproached by the FCC, or if they voluntarily went off the air by Feb. 26, 1999.

Robert Perry of the Center for Constitutional Rights said unlicensed broadcasters cause much less disturbance than the FCC alleges and should not automatically be disqualified for the new service.

He also argued that the pirate radio movement, in part, fueled recognition of the need for a licensed low-power service to allow more voices on the airwaves.

"But for the proliferation of these unlicensed stations and their civil disobedience we would not have low-power radio," Perry said.

Judge Judith Rogers questioned FCC lawyers about how the rules would affect someone who gave up running an unlicensed station, became "a model citizen" for 10 years and then wanted to apply for a low-power license.

"There's simply a practicality issue," said C. Grey Pash Jr., an FCC attorney. He noted that the offense committed by pirates is a fundamental violation of communications law, which requires broadcasters to be licensed by the FCC.

Regarding the commercial broadcasters' claims, Pash said the commission "has bent over backward to address" their concerns, including creating a new complaint procedure.

It could take the appeals court several months to render a decision.

Update

Congress reins in FCC's effort to fill radio dial with low-power stations
But commissioners may begin licensure proceedings this week for handful of applicants that adhere to provisions of new law.  12.20.00

Previous

Spending measure would scale back low-power radio plans
Broadcasters win congressional support in attempt to undermine FCC's proposed micro-radio service for church, school, community groups.  10.27.00

Minor revisions to low-power plan don't satisfy broadcasters
FCC adopts new protections for radio-reading services but doesn't address complaints of interference from industry group.  09.28.00

Hundreds of low-power enthusiasts seek spot on dial
But creation of new class of radio station continues to draw fire from nation's largest commercial, public broadcasters.  09.15.00

House votes to curb FCC's low-power radio plan
Lawmakers say agency ruling would create unacceptable interference with existing stations.  04.14.00

Related

Law firm asks Supreme Court to consider First Amendment issues in radio raids
Attorneys say courts ignored free-speech pleas of their clients after federal regulators seized their transmitters.  12.06.00

Godfather of low-power radio back on air despite shutdown
Mbanna Kantako's Human Rights Radio had broadcast for nearly 13 years before the FCC seized station's equipment.  11.16.00

FCC approves 255 applications for low-power radio stations
Kennard predicts service will demonstrate how new broadcasters won't interfere with full-power operators.  12.28.00

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