Low-power Radio Controversy between FCC, Broadcasters
By Kalpana Sprinivasan
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators and broadcasters are waging an unusually public battle over a plan to license hundreds of microradio stations, each side accusing the other of using misleading information to prove their point.

Broadcasters and others say that the creation of these low-power radio stations — operating at 10 and 100 watts — would cause serious interference with regular fullpower FM radio stations.

But top officials at the Federal Communications Commission called a news conference Monday to rebut those allegations.

They said a CD that the National Association of Broadcasters circulated on Capitol Hill is misleading. The CD contains simulated levels of interference — songs and voices on radio stations — that consumers would purportedly hear on their regular FM stations once the low-power stations are set up.

"It is a misrepresentation of the engineering facts," said FCC Chairman Bill Kennard. "Clearly, you have an industry that does not want to have new voices coming onto the airwaves."

The commission attacked the broadcasters’ claims as it was kicking off the process to select recipients of the new licenses. Applications for the first batch of channels will be accepted in May.

FCC engineers did their own demonstration to show that even with a radio signal strength much higher than what they are permitting, people listening to FM stations on their portable, clock or home radios would not hear significant interference or any cross-talk at all.

"Interference claims are nothing new at the FCC", said FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani. She stressed that the agency took a conservative approach in giving the green light for the low-power program.

But the broadcasting lobby says that tests support its claims. The group has taken its opposition to the courts and to Capitol Hill, where it has gained the backing of a number of lawmakers. Legislation to undo the FCC’s rules implementing low-power radio has been introduced in the Senate and is windiog through the House.

"The undeniable fact is that hundreds of thousands of radio listeners will experience additional interference as a result of lowpower radio", said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. The association has added to its Web site audio interference samples.

NAB is not the only group that has raised questions about the plan. National Public Radio has asked the FCC to delay implementation of the plan.