WASHINGTON, February 26, 2009 - Members of Congress, public interest advocates and community organizations applauded the reintroduction of legislation to authorize a new wave of low power FM radio licenses during a Wednesday conference call organized by public advocacy group Free Press.
Supporters of the Local Community Radio Act say the bill would unleash the potential of low power FM radio to create jobs and serve diverse communities across the United States.
The LCRA would provide a mechanism for licensing approximately 3,000 low power community radio stations. Licensees would be limited to local governments and non-profit entities including educational, religious or labor organizations that serve specific audiences or small markets.
The Federal Communications Commission began to issue Low Power FM licenses in 2000 after an intense lobbying effort. But Congress later placed restrictions on the licenses at the behest of the National Association of Broadcasters, drastically limiting the power levels and spectrum available to LPFM stations.
The LCRA is sponsored by Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., and Lee Terry, R-Neb. The bill would lift current restrictions and allow the FCC to begin issuing new licenses. The Doyle-Terry bill does not yet have a Senate companion.
"It is in everyone's interest to promote community radio," Doyle said. Doyle has been negotiating with colleagues to find co-sponsors and hasten the bill's passage. He said he was confident it would find bipartisan support in the House.
Low power FM stations "are a powerful tool to communicate with and connect people" in small communities, Terry said. He was not sure of a timetable for the bill's passage, but was confident it would clear the House easily. "I'm not sure when this bill will pass, but am sure it will," he said.
Cory Fischer-Hoffman of the Prometheus Radio Project, which won a protracted lawsuit against the FCC to block rules allowing newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, said that "now is the time to clarify public interests" by localizing more media ownership. "As media outlets are increasingly consolidated, local voices are being forced off the airwaves," she said.
"It's time for Congress to remove the unfair restrictions that stand in the way of community organizations, religious groups, students and senior citizens getting their own LPFM stations," Fischer-Hoffman declared. LPFM will give communities access to local programming and important emergency information, she said. "Expanding LPFM is a concrete action that will provide this important service."
And the national financial crisis has fostered an environment conducive for community radio, said Shawn Campbell of the Chicago Independent Radio Project. "Two of Chicago's newspapers are in trouble," he noted. "Community radio might be our last best hope."
The Local Community Radio Act garnered wide support in the 110th Congress, with nearly 100 co-sponsors in the House. Both President (then senator) Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain., R-Ariz., his opponent in the 2008 election, co-sponsored a companion bill which cleared the Senate Commerce committee by unanimous consent, but did not receive a vote on the Senate floor.