A. Need for Low Power Radio Service
10. As discussed in our 1998 Biennial Review of broadcast ownership regulations, liberalization of our local radio ownership rules over the past few years has led to increasing ownership consolidation. See Notice of Inquiry in MM Docket No. 98-35, 13 FCC Rcd 11276, 11281-83 (1998) ("Biennial Review"). The Commission has acknowledged the benefits to the public that may accrue from the economies of scale made possible by group station ownership. However, we are concerned that consolidation may have a significant impact on small broadcasters and potential new entrants into the radio broadcasting business by driving up station prices, thereby exacerbating the difficulty of entering the broadcast industry and of surviving as an independent operator.
11. Additionally, the Commission received over 13,000 inquiries in the last year from individuals and groups showing an interest in starting a low power radio station. 26 Furthermore, as noted above, hundreds of commenters have urged the Commission to create opportunities for low power, locally oriented radio service. These demonstrations of interest in low power radio service indicate that new classifications of service could be outlets for new voices and program services to serve the public. Moreover, it appears that the variety of demands may best be met by more than one station type, as urged by many commenters. For example, a low power station could be designed to operate similar to a full-power station but on a smaller scale, as a service for an ethnic community dispersed throughout an entire city, as a supplementary commercial or noncommercial service, or simply as a low cost community service used principally to convey information to listeners, without concern for financial support.
12. Accordingly, we seek comment on whether a low power radio service could provide new entrants the ability to add their voices to the existing mix of political, social, and entertainment programming, and could address special interests shared by residents of geographically compact areas. Numerous commenters state that alternative sources of information and entertainment are not readily available to dissatisfied speakers and listeners through the acquisition of an existing frequency, leased time from full power stations, an internet website,27 or internet webcasting,28 the last three of which do not require a license.29 Commenters note that the first alternative is too restrictive and provides insufficient access and control to the speaker to meet the demand that has spawned this rule making proceeding. The consistent demand for various forms of low power radio stations, including microradio stations, indicates that many people interested in community broadcasting cannot afford either their own full power stations or whatever limited access to established stations may be available. Moreover, people with non-mainstream interests or unconventional views would have access to the airwaves only with the consent of a full power station owner, which could severely limit their range of expression. We recognize that the internet offers unprecedented opportunities to communicate inexpensively to others around the world and to receive information or programming of interest. However, at this time, internet access is not sufficiently mobile and ubiquitous to be considered a substitute for radio broadcasting's capability to reach the public, despite some opponents' contentions to the contrary.30 Thus, it appears that low power radio offers opportunities to potential broadcasters and listeners for which there are currently no comparable alternatives. Commenters are invited to address these issues.
13. The technical parameters and other regulations for a particular service could affect not only the availability of frequencies for such stations, but also the nature of the licensees and listeners attracted to different types of stations and the resulting service. A higher power LPFM class with a larger service area would be more likely to attract more listeners, including listeners in vehicles, who account for a significant segment of the listeners of full power radio stations. Authorizing these as primary stations could provide stability that could enable licensees to obtain necessary funding to equip stations of this size and operate them in a manner that could more effectively serve the community; for example, perhaps a station could secure the resources to provide live coverage of high school sporting events or local civic or community meetings or events. At the same time, with a relatively small operating budget and a relatively small coverage area, such LPFM stations might be able to offer very localized exposure attractive to local businesses that could not otherwise afford radio advertising.
14. A lower power, less costly class of LPFM station, with secondary frequency use status and fewer operating and other regulatory requirements than full service broadcasters, might appeal to operators desiring to broadcast to smaller nonmobile audiences, especially if operated at locales where there would be little likelihood of channel displacement. As Skinner notes, such stations could often be operated by local volunteers. In some cases, stations might not be able to operate on a full-time basis or according to a regular schedule, but might still offer "niche" programming and important community event coverage and news and weather bulletins, such as school closing announcements.
26 For example, the low power radio fact sheet on the Commission's World Wide Web site is averaging more than 1,000 "hits" each month.
27 Greater Media, Inc. Comments at 7.
28 Id. at 7; Press Comments at 8.
29 An example of broadcast radio programming made available over the internet is < www.airos.org >: The American Indian Radio on Satellite (AIROS) network is a national distribution system for Native programming to Tribal communities and to general audiences through Native American and other public radio stations as well as the internet.
30 Press Comments at 8.