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Statement of REC Networks: The next administration's impact on radio

Submitted by on

I'm already seeing questions being posted asking how the new administration is going to impact LPFM and radio in general.  

I do feel that broadcast radio is very bipartisan in nature because we all have something to gain from it.  Some worry that the new administration will put tighter controls on the media.  Despite previous statements by the president-elect made during the campaign, the first amendment protects our press freedom and our right to free speech.  The administration and Congress should realize it was because of these freedoms that we enjoy that they are or are going to be in office.  

When you look at the structure of the FCC back in 1999 when LPFM was being created, our Commission consisted mainly of Clinton appointees.  Even within the Commission in place in 1999, two Republican commissioners (Powell and Furchtgott-Roth) dissented in part to the original decision to create the LPFM service mainly out of concern of interference and the economic impact on full-power stations.  

Under George H.W. Bush's watch, we did see the passing of the Radio Broadcast Protection Act (RBPA) which reversed the Commission's LPFM report and order specifically where it applied to third-adjacent channel protection.  Much of that came out of fear brought on by the National Association of Broadcasters that LPFM stations operating on third adjacent channels were going to destroy the existing broadcast service at the time.  As the MITRE study ordered by the RBPA had proven that there would be very minimal impact to the broadcast service by third-adjacent channel LPFM stations, the Commission prepared its report for Congress and the grassroots movement moved forward on the Local Community Radio Act.  Four attempts were made to pass the legislation during both Republican and Democratic administrations. 

In 2010 when the Local Community Radio Act was passed in the Senate, the two co-sponsors were John McCain (R-AZ) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Both parties realized that expanding community radio was the right thing to do. 

So, now that we are going into another Republican administration with a Republican majority in Congress, what is going to happen to radio and LPFM specifically?  

First and foremost, we must recognize that right now on the Commission, only one of our five Commissioners, Ajit Pai, a Republican has been speaking passionate in any way shape or form on radio.  While some LPFM stations are feeling the sting of his "AM revitalization" initiative and some may feel some sting under his support for the Class C4 proposal, he is the only one on the Commission who is even speaking out for broadcast radio, especially in the rural communities where a large number of beneficiaries to AM revitalization are located.  I have not heard Pai directly speak negatively on LPFM.

Regardless of which party they come from, we must assure that over the next four years, appointees to the Commission must be centered around spectrum as a whole and not just puppets for the wireless industry as what has happened with previous appointments.  

The last time we were in a Republican administration and we had adverse legislation (RBPA) passed, this was at a time when there were no LPFM stations even on the air and therefore no hard evidence to counteract the NAB's fear mongering to.  

Now that LPFM has been able to establish itself under a Republican administration and flourish under a Democratic administration, it has shown, like with full-power radio, it has purpose on both sides of the aisle.  If Congress or Republican-appointed commissioners take any adverse actions against LPFM in the next four years, it will not only go against the secular segments of the service but also against the faith-based segment, which is just as big as all of the secular segments combined.  To coin a term from the past, any substantial action on LPFM stations could be seen as a "war on religion".  

With a new administration, some initiatives such as any attempt to make some LPFM stations a primary service may fall by the wayside due to the strong NAB influence that will still exist in a Republican-controlled administration.  Any chance of ownership limits on non-commercial educational stations or FM translators (which would impact the large faith-based organizations) are also pretty much out the window (not that they were even being seriously considered in the first place).  Some initiatives that would have a positive benefit for faith-based stations (low and full power) such as third-party fundraising may see some new light under a new Commission.

Because it is highly unlikely that there will be an LPFM filing window within the next four years, regardless of who was elected last night, I do not see any major delays on another LPFM window.  I just do not see it happening under the next administration.  

Right now, we must move forward on LP-250 and in order for it to be successful, Commissioners Pai and O'Rielly need to hear from both secular and especially faith-based LPFM stations in order to work on getting RM-11749 to a notice of proposed rulemaking as part of a community broadcasting initiative, even if it is in conjunction with Class C4.  I also urge secular LPFM stations to consider a membership in the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.  While LPFM may not be under direct attack, any Republican attack on NPR/CPB may trickle down to us. We need to assure that over these next years, we have advocates working in favor of LPFM.  I can't do this alone and the other organizations well-known during the previous decade have now shifted towards station building and one has pretty much dissolved to all-volunteer.  I do feel that with a strong LPFM membership, NFCB can speak not just for full-power independent NCE stations but also for secular LPFM stations in DC.  

We must also educate our lawmakers that LPFM stations are not NPR but instead are true independent local voices spanning through all belief systems.  Our message should be about "community" and not "agenda".  The current inventory of LPFM stations does span the political spectrum and even if we disagree with a particular station's message, we must protect this service as a whole.  However, we must maintain integrity and self-policing within our service. This is more than just community radio on the line here, it is our fundamental freedoms.

Thank you for your ongoing support and know that REC is still out there.  It's business as usual here.