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FCC says Congress should lift restrictions on low-power FM stations

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

FCC says Congress should lift restrictions on low-power FM stations

  • The Federal Communications Commission told Congress last week that it should eliminate restrictions on low-power FM stations that do not interfere with the signals utilized by large radio broadcasters.

Feb. 26, 2004 — Low-power FM broadcast stations do not interfere with the signals of large, high-power broadcast stations, and should be relieved of restrictions placed on them by Congress, the Federal Communications Commission said in a report released last week.

The FCC report — issued to the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Feb. 19 — said it supports technical studies that have shown low-power radio stations “do not pose a significant risk of causing interference to existing full-service FM stations.”

The announcement received mixed reactions.

“It is encouraging the FCC came to this conclusion, but it is essentially the same conclusion they had three years ago, before a ton of taxpayer money was spent,” said Pete Tridish, technical director of the Prometheus Radio Project, a Philadelphia-based group advocating the growth of low-power FM stations. “Essentially, the ‘it’ comes down to the absurd question: What could a 100-watt station do to a 500,000-watt station? I think everyone knew that answer all along.”

Large broadcast corporations downplayed the report and are urging the FCC to reconsider its opinion. In a statement released Monday, the National Association of Broadcasters called the FCC’s decision “unfortunate” and said the commission relied on a study that was “deeply flawed.”

The FCC authorized licensing of low-power FM broadcast stations in January 2000. The initiative stipulates that nonprofit organizations may only broadcast “educational” material on 10- to 100-watt FM signals, provided the material contains no advertising. More than 3,000 organizations have since applied for licenses with the FCC.

However, large broadcast companies worried that low-power FM stations would interfere with their signals. Groups such as National Public Radio complained, and the National Association of Broadcasters convinced Congress in 2000 to pass a bill that put growth restrictions on low-power FM broadcast stations.

Under the Third Adjacent Channel Requirement of the Radio Preservation Act, signed by President Bill Clinton on Dec. 21, 2000, low-power FM stations are forced to broadcast on frequencies at least three “channels” away from the nearest high-power station, with a channel being defined as a 0.2 megahertz bandwidth. For instance, if a high-power broadcast station broadcasts at 94.5 megahertz, the closest a low-power station can be to that frequency is either 93.9 or 95.1 megahertz.

In July 2001, the FCC assigned The Mitre Corporation, an international nonprofit organization specializing in information technology, to monitor the effect low-power FM broadcasts have on larger stations. The Mitre report, published last November, concluded that low-power FM stations — no matter their channel — do not interfere with large broadcasters’ signals.


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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