Low-power radio's friends, foes argue against FCC plan
By The Associated Press
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
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
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But commissioners may begin licensure proceedings this week for handful of applicants that adhere to provisions of new law.
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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.
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.
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Lawmakers say agency ruling would create unacceptable interference with existing stations.
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Attorneys say courts ignored free-speech pleas of their clients after federal regulators seized their transmitters.
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.
FCC approves 255 applications for low-power radio stations
Kennard predicts service will demonstrate how new broadcasters won't interfere with full-power operators.