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January 20, 2000

Separate Statement
Commissioner Susan Ness

Re: In the Matter of Creation of a Low Power Radio Service (MM Docket No. 99-25)

Today we establish a new, unmistakably local radio service on the FM band, carefully crafted to ensure that community-based voices are heard, while maintaining the technical integrity of the full powered service. In so doing, we have enabled students, community organizations, churches, and those underrepresented in conventional broadcasting to provide programming of special interest to community and niche populations. I support this decision, but write separately to address the issues that I raised in my statement accompanying the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking last year regarding both the special nature of the service and the potential for interference with full power stations.

Community Based Service

The new low-powered service responds to the needs expressed by thousands of individuals and community-based groups who envision a vehicle to provide a very localized service, including high sports and debates, local campaign coverage, and other local public service needs. In no way is this service a miniaturized replica of a full powered station. Rather, it was structured to ensure that the service maintains its unique character. It is a non-commercial educational service. Licenses are non-transferable. A station's power cannot exceed 100 watts, establishing a coverage area approximately 3.5 miles around the transmitter. Local ownership is required for the first two years and during that time, licensees cannot own any other low powered FM station. After two years, they are subject to a low national cap, thus assuring a wide dissemination of ownership. Where there are mutually exclusive applications, priority will be given to those with an established community presence who pledge to provide more local programming over a longer broadcast day. I believe that these requirements and restrictions will preserve the special characteristics of this broadcast service.

Technical Interference

One of the most important functions of the Federal Communications Commission is our stewardship of the electromagnetic spectrum. In establishing the FCC, Congress charged this agency with avoiding chaos on the airwaves. Thus, I take very seriously our responsibility not to permit degradation of the FM band.

Moreover, I have long held the view that full powered radio broadcasters should be afforded the opportunity to transition into the digital world. Thus, I insisted that proponents of in-band-on-channel ("IBOC") digital radio broadcast systems have a meaningful opportunity to comment on the impact of low-power stations on such digital services before the record closed in this proceeding.

After an exhaustive review of the technical documentation in this record -- including the filings of those promoting digital IBOC radio systems -- I believe that the technical limitations we have imposed are adequate to protect existing full powered stations from undue interference from low-powered stations. In addition, the record suggests that elimination of third adjacent channel protection does not hamper the deployment of currently proposed IBOC digital radio systems.

The item puts to rest the possibility that we would entertain further reductions in protection through elimination of the second adjacent channel restriction. I feared that the mere mention of the possibility of future action could chill financial investment in the full-powered radio service. This would have a devastating impact --not on the major groups -- but rather, on the small and medium market independent stations which struggle daily to serve their communities. Many of these independent station and small group owners are women and minorities - the very groups that are under-represented in the full power broadcast service.

Finally, the Bureau has assured me that the 20 km buffer zone is sufficient to ensure retention of audience reach if an FM station is forced to move from its existing tower to another tower, as is often the case when digital television stations commence service.


The new low power FM service was carefully designed to emphasize its unique community benefits, while minimizing the possibility of undue interference with the existing full power FM service. I will be watching carefully whether our hopes and expectations are met as this service is deployed.