House Shoots Down FCC Plan of More Low Power Radio Stations
By Jim Abrams
Associated Press - Fri, 14 Apr 2000. [07:45:53]

Warning of a babble of interfering voices, the House has moved to put restrictions on a Federal Communications Commission ruling that would have opened the nationís radio airwaves to hundreds of tiny low-power stations.

"The FCC wanted to add everything but the kitchen sink into the nationís FM radio spectrum, creating significant interference with existing radio stations and services," said Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, the chief sponsor of the bill that passed 274-110 Thursday.

But both Ďthe White House and the FCC objected strongly to the legislation. The White House said the FCC could resolve interference issues and the new ruling, by encouraging local microradios, "would provide a voice for the voiceless, thereby contributing to improved community ties and information."

The bill, which has yet to be taken up by the Senate, responds to an FCC ruling last January making room for hundreds of new local stations.

The bill would keep current interference standards in place, thus reducing but not eliminating the number of new entrants in the market, while allowing demonstration programs in nine locales to see what happens when those standards are relaxed to levels sought by the FCC.

The ruling has put the FCC, a federal regulatory agency, at odds with the cornmercial broadcasting industry. "I donít know whatís fuzzier, the static from low power FM or the FCCís thinking on the issue," National Association of Broadcasters head Edward Fritts said this week at an industry convention.

But FCC Chairman William Kennard, in a statement, said the FCC has set minimum separation rules for low power stations that more than protect existing broadcasters.

"Special interests triumphed over community interests today," he said, predicting that the bill would eliminate more than 80 percent of the potential low power FM stations in hundreds of communities.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House Commerce telecommunications subcommittee, accused the FCC of doing its own lobbying against the bill, and said he bad asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the federal agency had violated the law in trying to defeat the legislation.

"We are confident that FCC staff acted appropriately and within the bounds of the law," said FCC spokesperson Linda Paris.

Supporters said the original version of the Oxley bill would have totally repealed the FCC ruling, and they had compromised by allowing the FCC to go forward with some new licensing while testing the more relaxed standards.

Reps. Thomas Barrett, D-Wis., and Bobby Rush, D-lll. proposed an amendment that would have allowed the FCC to go ahead with the new rules after a six-month test unless Congress specifically prohibited them, but it was defeated 245-142.

The House on Thursday also passed, by 375-37, a bill authorizing $1.25 billion in loan guarantees to help satellite companies and other TV providers bring local TV stations to rural and small market communities.

Last fall the president signed into law a measure giving satellite companies the right to add local TV stations to their programming. But while satellite carriers have begun providing that service to larger markets, they say they have no plans to extend local TV service to less populated areas, about 30 percent of the nation, because it is not economically feasible.