Thank you for inviting me to be with you again this year. It's wonderful to be home.
Before I begin my remarks, I wanted to say a few words about the tragedy last week in Littleton. Our hearts go out to all of those who were caught up in that terrible event, and especially those who lost loved ones. As the mother of two children, I can't imagine what those parents went through as they tried to find out whether their children had survived the attack. But, as always happens after one of these tragedies, grief soon gives way to a search for answers. How did this happen? And how can we stop it from ever happening again?
The truth is there are no easy answers. We'll probably never know why these kids did what they did. But that won't stop people from trying to assign blame. Some will blame the parents, who should have known what their kids were up to. Some will blame the easy availability of guns in this country. Some will blame the school for inadequate security. Some will blame the Internet for teaching kids how to build bombs. Some will blame Hollywood for airing too much violence. There may be some truth in all of these. In a tragedy like this, there's always plenty of blame to go around.
One of the realities that this tragedy has focused our attention on is our violent culture. When you hear about these kids playing first-person killing games like Doom for hours on end, the studies about how our kids have become desensitized by media violence take on a new immediacy. That's why I am so pleased that the V-chip is finally becoming available. By July 1, half of all TVs sold in the U.S. must have V-chips installed; by January 1, 2000, all sets must have V-chips. Up to now, parents could not control their kids' viewing when they were not at home. Now they can.
The V-chip is not a cure-all. By itself, it's not going to prevent another Littleton. But while it's not the whole answer, it might be a part of the answer -- at least for some kids. It will give parents a modern tool for limiting the amount of violence and other objectionable material that their kids are exposed to. The V-chip won't be a substitute for parents. It will empower parents to raise their children the way they see fit in today's world.
Now, back to the speech. I wanted to talk about a couple of issues that I know are in the forefront of your minds. The first is translators, and how we can ensure that our vital translator system survives and thrives into the next century. The second is low power radio. I hope that today can be the beginning of a full and productive dialogue on both of those topics.
Let me start with translators. You all know much better than I how important translators are to our broadcast system, especially out here in the mountain states. Translators may be "secondary" as a matter of law, but to the people who depend upon them to receive broadcasting service, there's nothing "secondary" about them.
I see a couple of big challenges facing translators over the next decade. First, there's the danger of displacement, largely caused by the allotment of a second channel to full-power stations to transition to DTV. Second, there's the problem of how translators themselves transition to digital. Let me address both of those.
First, as you all know, the threat of displacement is real. We now have almost 5,000 TV translators out there. With full-power stations receiving an extra channel to transition to digital, and with the impending loss of channels 60-69, the squeeze is really on. In the next few years, hundreds of secondary services like translators and low power TV stations may find themselves looking for a new home.
We've already taken numerous steps to try and minimize the displacement. For instance, we tried to assist translators in relocating to new channels. We changed the filing rules, so that those of you in the 60-69 band or who are being displaced by a DTV channel don't have to wait for a filing window. You can ask for a change at any time on a first-come, first-served basis. You can also keep operating on your current channel -- including channels 60-69 -- until the channel is needed for primary operations and a conflict arises. That might give a lot of stations the ability to keep operating throughout this transition period. I'd encourage you on channels designated for public safety to coordinate with your local officials. They should understand the valuable service you provide to the community. You may be able to find a way to keep your service on the air during the transition period.
Just to give you an indication of the scope of the displacement problem, the first day that translator and low power stations could file for replacement channels to avoid DTV conflicts was last June 1. On that one day, we received over a thousand translator and LPTV applications for replacement channels. Of those, 280 applications were mutually exclusive. We've given these parties a chance to resolve their mutual exclusivities through engineering solutions. And we relaxed several of our technical rules to give translator operators additional flexibility in reaching an agreement. But if they can't, the applicants will have to participate in an auction to determine who gets the channel.
Speaking of auctions, a couple of weeks ago we released our final broadcast auction rules. As you know, Congress now requires us to auction broadcast channels -- except non-commercial channels -- when broadcasters file mutually exclusive applications. I'm glad that we have final rules so we can get these auctions going, and that we'll be able to start assigning new translator licenses again. As you may know, there haven't been any filing windows for new translators since 1994. Now that the auction rules are in place, we can and should begin planning for a filing window that will permit small rural communities to receive additional programming services -- like some of the emerging networks -- that are commonly available in larger communities.
But I also wanted to mention a couple of specific auction rules we adopted that recognize the unique circumstances faced by secondary services like translators.
One, we have strict anti-collusion rules for most broadcasters who file mutually-exclusive applications. That means that, in order to preserve the integrity of the auction process, broadcasters are generally prohibited from settling with one another or using engineering solutions to remove the mutual exclusivity once applications have been filed. But our recent Order gave translators some relief from that rule, giving them a period of time to try and find engineering solutions to mutually exclusive applications and thus avoid an auction. This is the effort that the mutually-exclusive applicants who filed on June 1 are going through right now.
Two, we established a new entrant bidding credit for entities with no, or very few, other media interests. Specifically, you can get a 35% bidding credit if you have no other media interests, and a 25% bidding credit if you own no more than three other media interests (as long as you don't own any in the same area). In the Order, we held that interests in translators or LPTV stations would not count against you for purposes of the bidding credit. Thus, if you own translators or LPTV stations, even in the same area, you can still qualify for the 35% bidding credit.
So that's what we've done so far to help translators survive during this difficult period. If there's more that we can and should be doing, I hope you'll let me know. One thing I hope we're about to do is seek comment on creating a new Class A service for low power TV stations. This proposal would recognize the valuable contribution these stations provide to their communities and ask whether they should be given additional protection against displacement from any new stations coming on the air. If we ask that question about low power, I'm committed to asking it about translators as well. Should some types of translators be given primary status vis-a-vis new entrants? As translators struggle to survive and to continue serving their communities, I think it's a question well worth asking.
Translators have been so concerned with just surviving that the second challenge has gotten less attention -- the transition of translators themselves to digital. There aren't many sure things in the unpredictable world of telecommunications. But if there is one sure thing it's this -- that all forms of communication, from voice to video to data, eventually will transition from analog to digital. My sense is that not enough research and development work has been done on how translators will make that transition. What are the unique technical issues that need to be resolved for translators to go digital? And, as important as the technical issues, what are the economic issues involved? Many translators are non-profit, community-run enterprises. How much will this transition cost them? And how will they pay for it?
These are difficult questions, and I don't pretend to have the answers here today. But we need to start asking the questions. If we wait, our translators may not be ready when the time comes. I look forward to working with all of you to begin finding the answers.
Low Power Radio
Now let me talk about another subject that I hope we can work together on -- low power radio. I know how deeply concerned you are about the proposal that the Commission made in February. I want you to know that I've heard your concerns and want to continue that dialogue.
Let me start by talking about why we put this idea forward. As all of you are aware, the radio business has undergone tremendous consolidation over the past few years. Since the 1996 Act was passed, the number of radio station owners is down about 12%, even though the total number of stations has actually increased by almost 4%. As the business becomes more and more consolidated, it gets harder and harder for new people to get into the radio business and more tempting for existing owners to cash in and get out.
My colleagues and I have heard from hundreds of Americans who would like to use the airwaves to speak to their communities, but can't under our current rules. Most of the people I hear from are not pirates or extremists. They're groups like churches, community groups and universities. Creating an outlet for those voices is what motivates this proposal. Hopefully even those of you who ardently oppose this idea will admit that the goal is a worthy one.
The question then is this: is this proposal the right way to advance that goal? I can't stress this enough -- at this point the whole idea of low power radio is only a proposal. No decisions have been made. We are in the process of gathering the facts. I do not know what the facts will show. Maybe the facts will support low power, maybe they won't. But I do not think we should shy away from asking the question.
As the facts come in, and as I talk to groups like you, let me assure you of one thing. I will not vote to do anything that compromises the technical integrity of the FM spectrum. Protecting the integrity of the spectrum is one of the FCC's core functions. It is the foundation of the superior FM service that consumers enjoy in this country.
But, again, we need the facts. We need to know what the impact would be of not requiring low power stations to protect stations operating on the second and third adjacent channels. We need to know about possible interference. We need to know about how this could affect your transition to digital. We're doing tests, and the industry is doing tests, right now. Let's see what the facts say before we draw any final conclusions.
To me, proven interference and hindering the transition to digital would be valid reasons not to proceed with low power. But I've heard other objections to the proposal that I'm not as comfortable with. For example, I've heard some people inside and outside the Commission say that low power isn't a good idea because we already have "enough" broadcasters. They say that there are already enough different formats out there to serve the public. And they worry that additional stations competing for ad dollars will just make it harder for existing stations to survive.
Let me address both concerns. First, on the point that there's already "enough" diversity out there, I'm very uncomfortable with the government making that judgment. I don't think the government should be in the business of rationing speech, deciding that we've got enough of one kind of speech and telling other speakers to go elsewhere. I certainly don't want government making those kind of decisions and I hope that those of you who are dedicated to the concept of free speech would agree with me.
The issue of additional economic competition for existing broadcasters is a difficult one and one I struggle with. My staff and I have heard from many, many small broadcasters -- some of whom are in this room -- who worry that low power broadcasters could siphon off ad dollars, making it difficult for them to survive.
Here's my current thinking. Generally, I have a lot of faith in the market to produce the best results for the public. Free and open competition is what the 1996 Telecommunications Act is all about. But -- and this is a big but -- I believe that that competition must be fair. Many of you have said that you are willing to compete, but want to make sure that it's a level playing field. And I don't blame you. I think anyone who's competing with you for ad dollars ought to play by the same rules that you do. That's why we proposed that 1,000-watt low power stations generally would have to comply with the same Part 73 rules that you do. That means, for example, that 1,000-watt stations would have to comply with the public file rule, the main studio rule, political programming rules and the ownership reporting requirements. We also proposed to require those stations to maintain the same operating hours as full-power stations, have the same EAS responsibilities, and follow the same license terms and renewal procedures.
If you think this isn't enough to create a level playing field, let us know. That's what this comment period is for.
Another way to get at this problem would be to make all low power stations non-commercial. We asked about that option as well in the notice. If you think there's no way to create a level playing field among commercial stations, I'd be interested to know what you think about the non-commercial option.
Let me also clear up a misconception about the proposal. Some have said that there's no more room in the bigger cities for low power and so the proposal wouldn't do anything for the groups we're supposedly trying to help. But Albuquerque, for instance, could support quite a number of low power stations, depending on the level of interference protection we required. If we didn't require third-adjacent channel protection, Albuquerque could support three 1,000-watt or six 100-watt low power stations. Without second and third adjacent protections, Albuquerque could support sixteen 1,000-watt or thirty-seven 100-watt stations.
Or take San Antonio. Even with full interference protection, San Antonio could support one 1,000-watt station or two 100-watt low power stations. With no 3rd adjacent protection, San Antonio could support four 1,000-watt stations or 13 100-watt stations. And with no second or third adjacent channel protection, San Antonio could support 13 1,000-watt or 40 100-watt stations.
So low power wouldn't just be a small town phenomenon.
Finally, I wanted to mention the potential impact of low power on existing translators. I know many of you are concerned about this issue. I am too. If I've conveyed nothing else to you today, I hope I've conveyed how determined I am to ensure that our translator system survives and thrives into the future. The low power proposal specifically asks about translators, and whether they should receive special protection from interference.
So, to summarize. Low power radio is only a proposal at this stage. We are gathering the facts. We need to hear from you, especially your concerns about interference and your ability to transition to digital. Comments are due June 1. Reply comments are due July 1. If low power makes sense, I am committed to ensuring that existing broadcasters can compete on a level playing field and that translators are not unduly threatened.
In closing, let me say how much I value the role that free, over-the-air broadcasting plays in our society. Even with other outlets like the Internet and cable competing for people's attention, most people still turn to broadcasting for their news and information -- especially on issues of importance to the local community. That is a tremendous responsibility and one I know this Association takes seriously. I hope we can continue to work together to ensure that our broadcasting system remains the finest in the world.
Thank you again for inviting me.