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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Radio Wars, Round 2
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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.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 5:15 PM | Mass Media

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I personally think their rationale is a joke, it seems like most radio shows are now nationally syndicated shows anyway, local content is disappearing. The stations being a carrier of last resort isn't very convincing, in Mississippi, most radio outlets were shut down when Katrina hit. When most countries go to war, the first thing they go after is the radio & TV stations, satellite radio at least gives other options if the land based radio is shut down.

I've written the following letter to my representative as well as Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI), Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce where the bill is currently sitting. Feel free to copy and paste the letter or any parts of it, and use it to send to your representative. A few people in some other forums thought bringing politics into it is wrong, but I think that's the only thing these guys understand.


I am writing regarding H.R. 983, The Local Emergency Radio Service Preservation Act of 2007, as introduced by Rep. Chip Pickering of Mississippi, and Rep. Gene Green of Texas. I strongly oppose this legislation.

This bill would prevent satellite radio from transmitting these local services - including public safety/emergency information.

A great example of the benefits of satellite radio in an emergency situation was during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath when XM and the Red Cross both setup Red Cross Radio. This allowed relief workers, shelters and aid stations to receive vital information during a time when local terrestrial radio was knocked out of service. I would think that Rep. Pickering would praise this service rather than oppose this service, seeing that he serves constituents from Mississippi that were directly affected by this major emergency and could not receive emergency information from local radio.

In my opinion, this bill represents the influence of big business, rather than a service to the public. Rep. Pickering, since 1989 has received $ 48,500 from the National Association of Broadcasters, and $ 46,498 from the National Cable & Telecommunication Association, in addition to being sent on a trip to Vail, CO in August of 2005, paid by the Telecommunications Industry Association. Rep. Green, the bill’s primary co-sponsor, since 1989 has received $95,500 from the Communications Workers of America, and was sent on trips to Las Vegas in April of 2005 and April of 2003 paid by the National Association of Broadcasters.

I believe that the American people spoke with a loud voice in the last election, and would be mortified that this legislation really has nothing to do with public service, but is payback for receiving campaign contributions from big business contributors.

This particular bill was introduced three times in the past, with all three efforts ending in failure. It is time the issue should be dropped, and Congress should worry about bigger and much more important issues such as healthcare, education, and the war on terror.

I appreciate your time and your vote against H.R. 983.

Posted by: Chris at February 16, 2007 5:08 PM

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