[ Text | WordPerfect ]

January 28, 1999

Commissioner Susan Ness

Re: In the Matter of Creation of a Low Power Radio Service

This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking describes three low power FM services that could provide a means to give a public voice to individuals and entities currently not able to participate in our broadcasting system. We are seeking comment on whether to authorize any or all of these new services. By doing so, we may enable students, community organizations, and those underrepresented in conventional broadcasting to provide programming of special interest to small and niche populations.

At the same time, the Commission recognizes its role, as Chairman Kennard has said, "to be the guardian of the spectrum, not to degrade it." One of the primary reasons for the agency's establishment was to avoid chaos on the airwaves. To me, there are three issues that will be in the forefront as we build a record: first, whether these services should be open only to noncommercial entities; second, whether and to what extent these services would adversely affect the potential transition of existing broadcasters from analog to digital through an "In Band On Channel" (IBOC) system; and third, whether the proposed services would create undue levels of interference to full power services.

We have heard from many individuals and organizations who have described in moving detail their hopes and plans for local service to their communities. Many requests emphasized their nonprofit goals which could fit very well within these low power structures. I have been particularly interested in the prospects of this service for students, having been involved with my own college radio station.

I would like to believe that this proceeding will lead us to be able to create one or more new services in which at least some of the many hopeful people we have heard from may participate. I also support the Chairman's call for more ownership opportunities for women and minorities who are finding it more and more difficult to enter broadcasting as consolidation drives up station prices and access to capital continues to be scarce for new entrants. But I underscore that those interested in low power radio must seriously assess the economic requirements of launching and sustaining a new business, whether on a commercial or noncommercial basis.

Before I am to conclude that one or more new services are feasible, I must be satisfied that the technical issues have been adequately addressed. There are real questions regarding potential adverse effects on IBOC digital service and interference protections, particularly with respect to second adjacent channels. I have long championed the development of a terrestrial digital service to enable broadcasters to make a digital conversion, should they so choose, to remain technically competitive with satellite Digital Audio Radio Service (DARS). IBOC technology appears to be almost ready for commercial application and should not be undermined or compromised by any action we take on low power FM. The record that will be developed over the next few months must provide an objective technical basis for low power FM service. We would then brighten, not tarnish, the Commission's performance in maintaining the integrity of the radio spectrum while expanding the diversity of voices, which has so enriched the airwaves over the years.