January 20, 2000
|Re:||Creation of a Low Power Radio Service (MM 99-25)|
The radio business has undergone unprecedented and gargantuan consolidation over the past several years. Since the 1996 Telecommunications Act was passed, the number of radio station owners has decreased about 12% (and proposed mergers would reduce that number even further), even though the total number of stations has actually increased by almost 4%. As radio has become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands -- and as distant owners, national play lists and syndicated programming become more and more prevalent -- I've grown increasingly concerned about the effect of consolidation on localism and the diversity of voices on the public airwaves.
The new low power radio service we are adopting is a partial antidote to the negative effects of consolidation. It promotes localism and diversity not by limiting the rights of existing voices, but by adding new voices to the mix. Under the First Amendment, this is the best kind of response -- the answer is more speech, not less. The new low power service also comports with our statutory obligation to "[s]tudy new uses for radio . . . and generally encourage the larger and more effective use of radio in the public interest."(1)
The public response to the low power radio proposal has been enormous. We've heard from thousands of individuals, schools, churches, community groups and local government agencies who would like to use the public airwaves to serve their communities, but cannot under our existing rules. We've also heard from countless individuals who would like to hear more varied voices over the public airwaves. Providing an outlet for new voices to serve their communities is why I am proud to support this new service.
I have carefully considered the concerns of low power opponents who worry about undue interference in the FM band. Based upon the engineering data in the record, however, I am convinced that nothing we are adopting will jeopardize the technical integrity of the spectrum or the transition to digital radio.
I have also heard the concerns of broadcasters who worry that competition from low power broadcasters could make it harder for them to survive. I would respond as follows. First, we have made low power radio a noncommercial service, so there will be no direct competition for advertising dollars. Second, while I understand broadcasters' competitive concerns, and while many of them have served their communities with distinction over the years, I believe it is the Commission's duty to maximize competition wherever and whenever we can. That's why, for example, the Commission licensed satellite radio - a potentially significant competitor to terrestrial radio set to debut commercially in the near future. It would be a dangerous precedent for the government ever to declare that there is "enough" competition in any market.
Ultimately, however, the adoption of a new low power radio service has been driven by the scores of Americans who want to use the public airwaves to speak to their fellow citizens, and the scores of Americans who want to hear the additional diversity these speakers could provide. Under the conditions set forth in this Order, I can find no legitimate government interest in denying these citizens what they seek.
1 See Communications Act, Sec. 303(g).