Radio: An Overwhelming Need for Access
Posted on October 29, 2007 - 6:58pm.
from: Laser's Letter
An Overwhelming Need for Access
From Lasar’s Letter, October 29, 2007
This month, the long anticipated application window for Non-Commercial Educational (NCE) radio stations opened and closed. After years of waiting, the Federal Communications Commission let filers apply for these stations from Friday, October 12th through Friday the 19th. Scores of big signal non-commercial frequencies across the United States and its territories are up for grabs. But nobody knows yet precisely how many community, Native American, and religious groups submitted applications for these licenses during that brief period.
If anybody can make an educated guess, however, it’s Libby Reinish, Full Power Coordinator for the Prometheus Radio Project. Prometheus helped hundreds of applicants make their way through the formidable process of identifying and filling out the FCC’s complex forms for these precious FM signals. Now that the smoke has cleared, LLFCC caught up with Reinish to find out what happens next.
LLFCC: So how did the filing window go Libby? Smoothly? Were there problems?
Libby Reinish: For the applicants that we were working with, I think the filing window went pretty smoothly. Because everyone had to hire a lawyer and an engineer ahead of time, by the time the filing window rolled around most people were pretty much done with their application. On Friday [October 19th] the FCC decided to extend the window, which was supposed to close on Friday at midnight; they extended it to Monday at 2 pm. So that gave stragglers a couple of extra days to go over their applications one last time.
LLFCC: Were you concerned that bulk filers might also be aided by that extension?
Reinish: Yes. Definitely concerned. The FCC hasn’t posted their database yet, so I can’t look at all the applications that were filed. But we have heard that a thousand more applications went in on Saturday, the day after the filing window was supposed to close. We know that those applications were not from community groups.
LLFCC: Who do you think they were from?
Reinish: That remains to be seen. I don’t know, but I would suspect it would be from a Christian satellite network. We think that about 200 community groups applied for licenses. The other groups that are eligible for these kinds of licenses are National Public Radio and these Christian satellite networks. The FCC put a ten application limit on filers, so I’m very interested to see who these 1,000 applicants actually are.
LLFCC: The people who you helped—were they rural people mostly? My take was that most of the license availabilities were in rural areas.
Reinish: Yes. A lot of our applicants were from rural places, but we worked with people in some more urban areas as well. We did wind up finding some frequencies in more urban areas where we weren’t expecting to find anything available.
LLFCC: Where were they?
Reinish: Flint, Michigan; Phoenix, Arizona; there was one on Long Island, New York.
LLFCC: And these groups were mostly non-profits?
Reinish: Yes. For the most part. We worked with all kinds of different groups, from your local peace group to a civil rights group or a poverty and housing organization. Some community media groups that already existed, also a lot of cable access TV channels applied. A lot of cable access channels are starting to build community media centers that incorporate radio stations as well. It’s partly because it makes sense for the community to have both methods of communication available to them. But it also makes sense financially for these groups because of the cable franchising legislation that’s going through the different states and knocking funding or availability for a lot of the cable access channels. That means that partnering with a community station can keep the TV station alive as well. They can support each other.
LLFCC: Do you have concerns about how the process will play itself out from here within the FCC’s Media Bureau?
Reinish: I have definite concerns. We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but I’m curious as to how the point system they’ve put into place will play out. They only just started using it.
LLFCC: Could you give us a quick summary of the point system?
Reinish: Sure. The point system is mostly a good thing because it favors local groups and groups that don’t already own radio stations. Somebody puts in their application. They wait and find out if they were the only applicant in their area or if there is somebody in competition with them. If there’s a competitor they go through the point system. You get more points if you are an established local group that has been in the area for more than two years and incorporated as a non-profit for more than two years. You get more points if you own no interest in any other radio station in the broadcast area of the proposed new station.
And you get more points for technical superiority, which you don’t have that much control over—it’s sort of up to your engineer. And that’s based on how many people you cover with your proposed station.
So those are the three factors. And then there are tie breakers if you end up at a stalemate after going through those points. Those are how many pending applications you have and how many other radio stations you have, period; not just in that broadcast area.
These are all good steps for giving actual local applicants access to these licenses. But we’ll have to see what happens. We’ll have to see how closely these applications end up being scrutinized. I’m hoping that things will go well. But I’m curious to see how the point system and the new ten application limit will interact with each other, and how the ten application limit will work in general. Are they going the scrutinize applications that are potentially faked?
LLFCC: If people missed this filing window, is there something coming up in the future? I understand that there is some legislation pending to open up more licenses?
Reinish: Yes. There’s a Senate hearing and a markup next week on the Local Community Radio Act of 2007, which is legislation that would increase the number of available low power frequencies. This is not the same kind of licenses that this window was for (some were up to 100,000 watts), but for 100 watt or less non-commercial radio stations.
Prometheus exists to develop these low power radio stations. In 2001 when Congress passed legislation creating the Low Power FM Service, they limited it based on information from the National Association of Broadcasters and NPR, which asserted that there would be interference received from low power stations if they were built within four clicks on the dial from an existing full power station.
Congress passed that restriction, but they also commissioned an independent study, called the Mitre Study, from the Mitre Corporation. It cost 2.2 million dollars and it came back saying that there is no interference if you build one click closer on the dial, on the third adjacent channel. And so the Local Community Radio Act of 2007 would allow us to build low power radio stations on the third adjacent channel. That would create thousands more opportunities in places that missed out on the first low power filing opportunity.
If that legislation passes, then we have to wait for the FCC to open up another filing window for low power.
LLFCC: So that could be a while.
Reinish: [Laughing] Yes.
LLFCC: You know all the smart money keeps predicting that terrestrial radio is dead. But here are all these folks rushing to get these licenses. I guess it’s not dead.
Reinish: I guess not. Everybody has terrestrial radios in their cars and in their kitchens. That’s what people listen to. Satellite radio is a pretty new technology. And it’s not free.
I am very excited for all the people who submitted applications, who will hopefully be new local broadcasters in a couple of years. Like I said, we had about 200 groups apply across the country. Not just in the continental United States, but we had groups in Alaska and Hawaii and even in the U.S. territories. I think it demonstrates an overwhelming need for access to the airwaves, and for people to get their voices heard.
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