Debate over LPFM bill in House and Senate

Posted on December 21, 2010 by

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Posted by Curtis Prendergast

Below is the text of the debates over the Local Community Radio Act of 2010 in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.  The original text is available in the Congressional Record.

Debate in the House of Representatives

Below are comments made by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa) on the floor of the House of Representatives on Dec. 17.  He spoke in favor of passing the Local Community Radio Act of 2010, which would allow the FCC to resume issuing licenses to low-power FM radio stations.  Rep. Doyle was the sponsor of the bill as it was passed in the House in November 2009. The video is available on C-SPAN (01:52:43-02:09:00).

Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank Chairman Boucher, and to let Mr. Boucher know that it has been a privilege to work with him during our years together on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and especially during the 2 years he served as chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and of the Subcommittee on Communications Technology and the Internet. He has been a great colleague and partner in legislation and a great friend, and I want to wish Chairman Boucher only the best in his next steps.

I also want to thank Chairman Waxman for strongly supporting this bill that will give local communities across this country access to their airwaves. I am grateful for the support that this bill has from both sides of the aisle, from myself, the former vice chairman of the Communications Subcommittee, to the future vice chairman of the Communications Subcommittee, this bill’s lead cosponsor and my good friend, Lee Terry from Omaha.

We have been working together to bring local community-oriented radio to more cities, counties, and neighborhoods across the country for 10 years now, and I would say to my friend that I think we are finally on the last leg of this journey.

This bill will allow churches, schools, neighborhood groups, and others to put community-oriented programming on the air, and it will help first responders provide those communities with critical information in times of natural disasters and other emergencies.

You see, when the Federal Communications Commission created the Low Power FM radio service, they sought to create opportunities for new voices on the airwaves and to allow local schools, churches, and other community-based organizations to provide programming that is responsive to local community needs and interests. Congress, however, passed the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act in 2000, and many of those organizations were prevented from communicating to their members, supporters, and residents on the FM radio dial. That bill called for a field study performed by the MITRE Corporation, and for the FCC to recommend to us what we should do.

In 2004, on a unanimous bipartisan basis, the Federal Communications Commission issued a report to Congress which stated that, “Congress should readdress this issue and modify the statute to eliminate the third adjacent channel distant separation requirements for LPFM stations.”

For a second time, in November of 2007, and for a third time, again, in September 2009, all five FCC Commissioners agreed that Congress should lift the restriction on LPFM stations and allow them to license new stations in more communities. The bill we have under debate today, the Local Community Radio Act of 2009, does just that.

When they are allowed to exist under current law, LPFM stations have proven to be a vital source of information during local or national emergencies. And these stations promote the arts and education from religious organizations, community groups, organizations promoting literacy, and many other civically oriented organizations; stations like:

KOCZ in Opelousas, Louisiana, which is operated by the Southern Development Foundation, a group active in the African American community. The station broadcasts public affairs shows, religious programing, hip-hop and zydeco music 24 hours a day. Zydeco music is central to the cultural heritage of the Acadiana region but had mostly disappeared from the airwaves dominated by commercial radio; or

WRFR in Rockland, Maine, which broadcasts talk and call-in shows on issues important to the community on a variety of things. Though six other stations have their transmitters in the station’s home in Knox County, WRFR is the only station that originates its programming there; and

WQRZ in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, which remained on the air during Hurricane Katrina and served as the Emergency Operations Center for Hancock County during the worst storm there in a century.

But Congress has to act on the Commission’s recommendations; otherwise, similar stations are prevented from operating in communities across America, communities like mine, which are too large to have any slots for any LPFM stations at 4th adjacent, but could fit several at 3rd.

But you don’t have to take my word for it–every FCC Commissioner since 2003 has vouched for this–or the MITRE Corporation’s outside study’s word for it either. We all know this is going to work because it already works.

Currently, large commercial and noncommercial FM stations duplicate and extend their signals on these same 3rd adjacent channels that the FCC wants to also make available to new noncommercial stations.

This bill has broad support, as evidenced in these letters from almost a dozen leaders, from Catholic and Protestant faiths like the United Church of Christ and the National Association of Evangelicals; a letter from two dozen national and local public interests, civil rights, local groups; and another letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; and, finally, this letter from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters and the Prometheus Radio Project, all of whom support this bill.

Exactly a year and a day ago, the House passed an earlier version of this legislation, H.R. 4711, a fine bill, but the broadcasters’ concerns kept it bottled up in the Senate all year.

I am pleased to tell you that at the 11th hour, in the nick of time the various stakeholders were able to reach an agreement over the disputed language, and all of the Senate holds have been lifted.

This version of the bill was supported by everyone with a stake in broadcasting: Small noncommercial stations, big noncommercial stations like NPR, big commercial stations like the National Association of Broadcasters. This bill deserves my colleagues’ support, unanimous support, as well.

The time has finally come for Congress to rewrite this law. The time has come to make the airwaves available to the people they serve. As I said a year ago, the time has come to bring low power to the people.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for support of this legislation.

List of Organizations That Sent Letters of Support

Director–California Indian Heritage Council (No PDF), Association of California Water Agencies, Wateruse Association, American Water Works Association, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, La Clinica de La Raza, A Community Voice Louisiana, Nancy Skinner, Assemblywoman for the 14th District, National Resource Defense Council, California Safe Schools (no PDF).

Planning and Conservation League, Council of the District of Columbia, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, California Public Health Association, Environmental Defense Fund, East Bay Municipal Utility District, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Community Water Center, Southern California Watershed Alliance.

Clean Water Action, Urban Semillas, Friends of the River, Institute for Socio-Economic Justice, Planning and Conservation League, North Richmond Shoreline Open Space Alliance, California League of Conservation Voters, California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health, San Jerardo Co-Op Inc, Karuk Tribe.

Sierra Club, Consumer Union, Contra Costa Water District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Environmental Defense Fund, Ellen Corbett, 10th Senate District, Planning and Conservation League (second one), PMI, Vermont PRIG, and Action Now.

I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. STEARNS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself of such time as I may consume.

Debate in the Senate

Below are comments made on the Senate floor on Dec. 18.  These remarks were made the day after the above comments were made and the bill passed the House.

Mr. BROWN of Ohio. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of H.R. 6533, which was received from the House.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will report the bill by title.

The bill clerk read as follows:

A bill (H.R. 6533) to implement the recommendations of the Federal Communications Commission report to the Congress regarding low-power FM service, and for other purposes.

There being no objection, the Senate proceeded to consider the bill.

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I have long argued in favor of greater diversity and localism in broadcasting. Today, Congress takes a positive step by making available more radio broadcast outlets for local content.

I am pleased that Congress has finally passed and sent to the President the Local Community Radio Act, which will increase the number of frequencies available for low power FM, LPFM, radio stations. I am a cosponsor of the Senate version of this legislation, and have been an original cosponsor of similar legislation in each of the previous two Congresses. I commend Senator Cantwell for her hard work in reaching an agreement with full power broadcasters that will ensure they are protected.

The rash of nationwide consolidation we have witnessed in the broadcast industry over the last decade has been alarming, if predictable. Low power FM stations offer a valuable counterweight to this trend. By using low power stations, community groups can access underutilized spectrum and provide content tailored to smaller communities. The Local Community Radio Act rolls back unnecessary restrictions that have limited the number of frequencies on which LPFM stations can operate.

This legislation is important because LPFM stations provide opportunities for local organizations to serve local communities. Vermont has 11 LPFM stations serving local communities in Vermont from Hyde Park to Brattleboro to Warren. There is room for more in Vermont and across the country.

Low Power FM provides the opportunity for truly local content to flourish, and today’s legislation will make more such stations available.

Mr. BROWN of Ohio. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the bill be read a third time and passed, the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table, and any statements related to the bill be printed in the Record.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The bill (H.R. 6533) was ordered to a third reading, was read the third time, and passed.

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