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Low-Power Radio Plan Defended

April 12, 2000

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ If you ask the commercial broadcasters gathered here what the buzz is at their annual meeting, they are likely to respond that it’s not a buzz at all but the sound of interference _ exactly what they claim consumers will hear if hundreds of low-power stations are allowed to go on the air.

The showdown between the industry and federal regulators _ who authorized the creation of a low-power service for community groups, churches and others earlier this year _ is far from over. And despite repeated promises by the Federal Communication Commission that existing FM stations won’t be hurt by the new stations _ which cover only several miles _ broadcasters remain concerned.

Thomas Young, who operates an AM and FM station in Napa Valley, 40 miles outside of San Francisco, said some broadcasters are leery because of bad experiences with pirate radio. Even though the FCC has set restrictions on who is eligible for the stations, ``we of course are nervous about what it means.″

On Tuesday, FCC Chairman Bill Kennard sought to assure the broadcasters here, but also chided the industry for trying to derail the initiative.

``Why in the midst of all this opportunity for broadcasters have you chosen to muster your considerable resources in Washington and around the country to deny churches and schools and community-based organizations just a little piece of the broadcast pie?″ Kennard said.

He questioned why the group had ``squandered its goodwill at the FCC″ in its battle against low-power.

Goodwill works both ways, said National Association of Broadcasters president Edward Fritts after Kennard’s address.

And turning to Congress for a tiebreak, ``might be the way to resolve the interference issue.″

Legislation that would severely curtail the number of low-power stations the FCC could license already is winding through the House. Floor action could come this week.

The bill boosts the interference protections between neighboring channels from what the FCC had authorized and requires the commission to set up an experimental program in nine markets to see what would happen if those protections were relaxed.

FCC officials have asserted that they took a conservative approach in deciding to create the low-power service, and that they provided ample protection to existing stations. They also say that increasing the buffers between stations means that there would be up to two-thirds fewer stations licensed. A market like Indianapolis would have had nine stations under the commission plan, but none under the legislation, according to the agency.

But the measure has drawn the backing of some surprising allies, like National Public Radio. Because most public radio stations are more tightly packed together and have restrictions on their power level, they are more vulnerable to interference, said NPR president Kevin Klose. The group also is concerned that the low-power stations might interfere with reading services for the blind that are carried on subcarrier channels.

On another matter, Kennard warned broadcasters against trying to push off the deadline for moving from analog to digital TV, which stations must complete by 2006.

``Delay is simply not an option,″ Kennard told the group Tuesday. The transition ``will happen as sure as day follows night.″

But Fritts said broadcasters are making investments to upgrade their stations to digital without any assurances that their digital signals will be carried by cable companies on those systems or that the quality of digital TV sets on the market will improve.


On the Net:

Federal Communications Commission site: http://www.fcc.gov

National Association of Broadcasters site: http://www.nab.org

National Public Radio site: http://www.npr.org

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