Terrestrial radio broadcasters and satellite radio operators (XM & Sirius) continue to square off in the marketplace but their battle in the political arena is almost as heated of an affair. Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) and Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) have reintroduced the "Local Emergency Radio Service Preservation Act of 2007." (H.R. 983) The legislation would limit satellite radio companies to just national programming and disallow any attempt by them to provide more "localized" content, such as local news, weather, traffic and sports reports.
Supporters of the measure argue that local radio broadcasters offer "services critical to the public," especially "in times of emergencies or disasters when other means of communications may not be available." Moreover, because "radio is the most ubiquitous of all mass media, with receivers located in almost every home and automobile in the country" the sponsors argue that "There is a substantial governmental interest in ensuring [the] continuation" of free, over-the-air local radio services. In other words, supporters argue that terrestrial radio broadcasting is somewhat akin to a "life line" service or mass media "carrier of last resort" for some local communities.
In late 2005, I penned a study on "The Future of Radio Regulation" in which I discussed the earlier version of this bill. In my study, I argued that the best way to solve this issue is not through line-of-business restrictions on new players or technologies, but rather though the comprehensive liberalization of the traditional terrestrial radio broadcast sector to give those operators more flexability to compete in the new media marketplace without one arm tied behind their backs. I argued:
Free, over-the-air radio can have a future if it is freed of its regulatory chains. This will require the elimination of the various "public interest" mandates, content controls, ownership regulations, and other rules that make it difficult for traditional broadcasters to meet the new challenges posed by satellite radio operators and other new media competitors.
Leveling the playing field by deregulating traditional radio operators also represents a better approach to this issue because satellite radio is just one the many competitive threats they face. Local news and information is already accessible to communities through a variety of new outlets and distribution devices, including: cell phones, computers & the Internet, GPS devices, iPods, local TV stations, cable channels, etc. There's no way to restrict all these new options even though some of them pose a bigger threat to the future of terrestrial radio than satellite radio does.
Again, let's not impose new line-of-business / technological restrictions but instead loose the chains that bind traditional radio broadcasters to allow them to compete on equal terms with their many new media marketplace competitors.