Little opposition was voiced Thursday as the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet sent on to the full Energy & Commerce Committee a bill to end the law protecting full power FM broadcasters from having LPFMs on third adjacent channels. Also sailing through was a bill to bar TV commercials from being louder than the programs they appear in.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) was the lone subcommittee member to declare his opposition to the Local Community Radio Act of 2009 (H.R. 1147), saying he still has concerns about interference. Although he supported the measure, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) noted that “I maintain a modest degree of skepticism.” Likewise, ranking Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) said he still had some concerns about the impact on full-power stations, but believed they would be worked out by the bill sponsors and the broadcasting industry as the bill moves to the full committee.
Even former radio station owner Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) said he had spoken with a broadcast engineer he had worked with for many years and was convinced that interference is not the issue it was once believed to be.
“All I can say is, it’s about time,” said supporter Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). “The time has come to make the airwaves available to the people they serve,” declared Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), a principal author of the bill.
Doyle introduced a manager’s amendment which amended the current law, rather than repealing the 3rd adjacent channel protection (a nicety without any real impact), added a legal requirement for the FCC to protect stations from co-, 1st- and 2nd-adjacent channel interference, gave the FCC “substantial flexibility” to manage spectrum and added language to allow the use of different evidence by full-power stations complaining about interference – “although, to date, very, very few complaints have been filed at all,” Doyle noted. And finally, the amended bill provides for new translators to be licensed. He also placed into the record a letter from National Public Radio expressing appreciation for the changes made to the legislation. H.R. 1147 passed on a voice vote and now heads to the full committee.
A manager’s amendment was also the avenue for approval of the “CALM Act,” the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (H.R. 1084). Eshoo thanked the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) for developing technical standards for TV stations, broadcast and cable networks, and cable operators to meet the bill’s goal of ensuring that volume does not fluctuate between programming and commercials, so her amendment incorporated those technical standards. The amendment would also allow the FCC to grant compliance waivers for up to two years for financial hardship – which, added to the one year period for implementation, would give some small stations up to three years to come into compliance.
The measure passed on a voice vote, but as it goes to the full committee lawmakers will be looking at a claim that the bill puts an undo burden on small cable operators who do not insert commercials and simply pass along broadcast and network feeds without any ability to control volume levels. Eshoo questioned whether the issue, raised at the 11th hour, in her opinion, raised any real concern, since the small operators would be eligible for the same waiver if a local TV broadcaster seeks a hardship waiver from the FCC and, otherwise, all broadcast and network feeds coming to the cable head-end would have to be in compliance with the law.
RBR-TVBR observation: We always marvel at the lawmakers and regulators who believe they have the power to repeal or amend the laws of physics.
Time after time one of the subcommittee members declared that LPFMs would not cause any interference to existing full-power FMs because an engineering report ordered up by the FCC at the direction of Congress said so. The report said no such thing. It said that the interference would not be significant. Consumers who will no longer be able to listen to their favorite FM station might take issue with whether that interference is significant. The interference is real and neither Congress nor the FCC can vote it away.
Regardless, this is a bad idea whose time has come. Broadcasters don’t have a lot of support on this issue, so the legislation is almost certainly going to be steamrollered into law.