Congress reviews proposal for easier FM access

A U.S. House subcommittee reviewed government plans Thursday to grant GW and other universities easier access to the FM radio band.

Debate focused on a House bill that would block the implementation of the Federal Communications Commission order to develop a new Low Powered Frequency Modulation Band. LPFM would allow colleges nationwide greater access to the airwaves.

Eva Price, program director for GW’s radio station, WRGW, said the station was encouraged by the new opportunity.

The FCC report was met with congressional criticism after the five-member FCC executive board gave its final approval late last month.

The FCC appears to have made a public service decision without the advice and counsel of Congress, said subcommittee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) I think it was an improper decision.

Tauzin joined opponents who fear that the establishment of LPFM would cause additional interference to an already crowded electromagnetic spectrum.

(LPFM) would fragment advertisers to the point where there would be no support for minority stations by advertisers, Tauzin said. Subcommittee members appeared fragmented along party lines, as members posed questions to witnesses.

The FCC is doing their job and doing it well, ranking member Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said. We want more choices. That’s the American way.

Several witnesses testified that they feared increased interference could jeopardize the In-Band On-Channel implementation for digital broadcasting. IBOC is a broadcasting technology that uses the current radio spectrum to transmit existing AM and FM analog simultaneously with digital signals.

Bruce Reese, chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters Spectrum Integrity Force, said interference would be detrimental to consumers.

Relaxed guidelines for interference would make Sony Walkmen and other types of radios much harder to listen to, Reese said.

Dr. Theodore Rappaport, a professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, said in the worst-case scenario only 1.6 percent of listeners would be affected. He also said the figure is conservative because it assumes a full spectrum of the largest type of output allowed by LPFM.

We believe that consumers are smart enough to understand the performance difference between differing classes of stations, said Bruce Franca, deputy chief of the Office of Engineering at FCC.

Students said corporations such as the National Association of Broadcasters provide an obstacle to small stations.

It’s being challenged by big business because big business is afraid that this could affect a very small proportion of their audience, said Jason Cohen, general manager of WRGW.

Cohen said while WRGW remains interested in applying for an FM license, the station has not filed yet because the FCC has not put out an application for the new LPFM class.

Tauzin said FCC Chairman William Kennard declined his invitation to testify before the committee. FCC Commissioner Harold W. Furchtgott-Roth expressed his opposition to the report despite his organization’s support of the proposed program.

I did not believe we should create new stations at the expense of already existing ones, Furchtgott-Roth said. The FCC decision could lead to the degrading of the FM Band.

Furchtgott-Roth said the Commission was wrong to assume that LPFM would lead to greater minority representation, because most of the low-powered stations would develop in sparsely populated regions.

But other congressmen disagreed with Furchtgott-Roth.

I’m sympathetic to the interference issue, but I still remain committed, Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said. This will allow churches and universities access to a medium that has been inaccessible because of the high cost.

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