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January 20, 2000


Re: Creation of a Low Power Radio Service (MM 99-25)

When I first became Chairman of the FCC, I started talking to people about radio. And I encountered a lot of frustration on the part of folks who felt like they had ideas on how to put radio to good use serving their communities, but no way of putting those ideas into action.

I heard this from churches and schools, community groups and public safety officials, civic organizations, and non-English speaking communities, from the Haitians in South Florida to the Vietnamese of South Texas.

In meeting with these groups, I've been struck by all of the different ways they propose to use the airwaves. Some want low power FM to serve as a forum for discussions of issues relevant to local communities. Some want to provide job training for young people seeking to make a career in broadcasting. Some want to emphasize cultural learning, while others want to offer more formal instruction and training over the air. And some want to keep their communities informed of public safety concerns, including weather and traffic conditions.

I have also been struck by the enthusiasm that these groups have when simply discussing the possibility of a low power service. Every day, it seems, we read about a bigger merger and more consolidation, all of which leads to the perception that the interests of small groups and individuals are being lost, and that important voices and viewpoints are being shut out.

The possibility of opening up available spectrum in the FM band has sparked creativity. Among those who propose new uses for the FM spectrum, the excitement is palpable.

And the fact is, there is more room at the table; there is spectrum available for these and other uses. But rather than being able to use the available spectrum to test their ideas in the marketplace, these groups are being shut out, prohibited from serving their communities.

Today we recognize the important role of more modest technical facilities, and throw open the doors of opportunity to the smaller, community-oriented broadcaster.

Now there are those that argue that there is no viable business case for low power FM, that the economics just don't work, and that the FCC should save low power broadcasters from themselves. I am not convinced of this because it is not the business of the FCC to pick winners and losers. We should empower consumers to decide what he or she prefers, rather than ruling out some options on our own and depriving the listener of making that choice for him- or herself

That's what faith in the marketplace is all about. Remember, there was a time in this country when AM broadcasters said that FM would never make it.

Some argue that the creation of a new FM service means there will be more licensees subject to our broadcasting rules, making enforcement of our rules more difficult and more expensive. I am skeptical when concerns like administrative expense and convenience are invoked to justify the exclusion of new competitors in the market. That's like saying we won't issue any more drivers' licenses because there are already too many speeders. That would penalize those who have not broken the law, but do nothing to crack down on those who have.

The most serious objection to low power FM, and one that I have studied extensively, is the claim that low power FM would cause interference to existing radio stations. I have pledged all along that I would not support any proposal that threatens the integrity of existing radio services. I am pleased to say that my support of today's proposal is consistent with that pledge.

Protecting the current FM radio service is an obligation that cannot be compromised. In a relatively short period of time, the FM band has been transformed from a virtual desert into a vibrant and critical source of news, information, and entertainment in the daily lives of millions of Americans. It needs and deserves our protection.

That is why we have invested so many resources in conducting and analyzing technical studies on the issue of low power FM. I suspect that low power FM has been subjected to as much testing and engineering as any radio service we have ever looked at. And we have learned quite a lot.

The threat of interference has persuaded us to back away from some elements of the original low power proposal. For instance, we are limiting low power FM to 100 and 10 watt stations, even though we initially raised the possibility of 1,000 watt stations as well. Likewise, while we considered eliminating both second and third adjacent channel protections, we will be eliminating only the latter, while retaining the former.

While some studies suggest the possibility of interference even with the limitations we have adopted, the flaws underling these studies seem plain. Some of the studies cited in opposition to a low power FM service start with the premise that most existing FM radios do not provide adequate reception even today, before the creation of a low power service. These commenters suggest that we adopt standards that bear no relation to the choices that consumers have repeatedly made In the market, and that we reject reception standards that the over one-half billion radios now in use implicitly endorse. I see no reason for the FCC to invent standards on its own, when consumers have already voted with their dollars to decide on an adequate level of performance.

Our fundamental obligation under the law, as codified in section 1 of the Communications Act, is to "make available . . . a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide and worldwide wire and radio and communication service." At the heart of this mandate is the notion of opening up new opportunities in a way that protects the integrity of existing services. Today's order does exactly that and I am proud to support it.

- FCC -