In what was widely seen as a victory for media and community activists, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last January approved a plan to license low power (or "micro") radio stations in many areas of the country. The FCC planned to begin the licensing process for non-commercial radio stations operating between 10 and 100 watts.
However, an intense lobbying effort by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), National Public Radio (NPR) and others in the broadcast industry now threatens to severely restrict-- or eliminate-- low power radio. Last May, FAIR released an Action Alert calling on concerned citizens to oppose S. 2068, a Senate bill introduced by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that would have prohibited all low power radio. While that bill failed to gain sufficient support to pass, a new anti-low power bill, S. 3020, was introduced on September 7 by Sen. Rod Grams (R-MN). S. 3020 is misleadingly titled the "Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000."
Sen. Grams is touting his bill as a compromise, but in fact it is identical to an earlier bill, H. R. 3439, which passed the House of Representatives in April and would severely curtail and delay the FCC's plan to issue low power radio licenses. Both bills would reduce the number of possible low-power stations by about 80 percent and require a new round of technical tests that many public interest groups deem unnecessary.
According to the Media Access Project, a non-profit law firm which works to promote First Amendment rights, S. 3020 would also "effectively prohibit most low power FM stations" by requiring unnecessarily large spaces on the dial between them and existing stations, "making LPFM impossible in all but the least crowded radio markets."
The Senate is expected to debate S. 3020 very soon. The NAB is also lobbying for H. R. 3439 to be added to an appropriations bill in the House as a rider-- essentially sneaking the legislation in and making it more difficult for senators to vote against it. Jim May, NAB executive vice president of government relations, recently wrote in a "Broadcaster Alert" to NAB station executives that "given all the political maneuvering in Washington prior to the November elections," an appropriations bill would be NAB's "best vehicle for us to move our legislation" (About.com, http://pirateradio.about.com/tvradio/pirateradio/library/weekly/aa091200a.htm).
ACTION: If you support low power radio, it is crucial that you contact your senator as soon as possible and urge them to oppose S. 3020, and to oppose the NAB's attempt to sneak in H. R. 3439 as an appropriations rider. You might also urge your senator to allow the FCC's low power plan to proceed without legislative interference.
To locate your senator's e-mail address, go to:http://www.senate.gov/contacting/index_by_state.cfm
The Senate switchboard number is 202-224-3121.