House Committee Approves Low-Power FM Station, Interoperable Communications Bills

The House Energy & Commerce Committee Thursday approved bills to increase the number of low-power FM stations and extend a program to fund interoperable communications. Both had passed easily in the Communications Subcommittee the week before.

On voice votes, the committee approved and reported favorably to the House the Local Community Radio Act and the Public Safety Interoperable Communications Act.

The first bill, long opposed by broadcasters, reduces the channel separation between low-power and full-power stations to allow more of the former to share the band with the latter.

Broadcasters have always been concerned about increased interference, but after conducting a study, the FCC concluded they could be allowed in without undue interference, and the bill includes an expedited complaint process about such interference if it occurs, as well as extra protections for translators that extend full-power signals to hard-to-reach places.

That latter protection was pushed by National Public Radio.

The Interoperable Communications bill provides a two-year extension for making use of up to $1 billion in government funding for state and local interoperable communications systems. The money comes from the auction of the 700 mHz DTV spectrum. The bill does not increase the funds, but allows states and localities another two years to make use of them.

That came after a Commerce Department report concluded that the December 2010 deadline was insufficient. An identical bill, sponsored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), already passed the full Senate by voice vote this week.

The FCC has yet to decide how to reauction spectrum in the D-block in order to achieve its goal of a national interoperable communications network. Its initial auction failed to produce the public-private partnership it envisioned.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.