Upcoming FCC decision will determine your Internet speed


November 4, 2014

   You’re enjoying your weekend java, wanting to learn what happened at last week’s school board meeting. Your local newspaper doesn’t cover that beat, but a local blogger does a good job, so you try to pull his site up on your laptop. Meanwhile, your 5-year-old opens up “Sesame Street” on her iPad, and on his, your teenage son is bringing up “Spider-Man” on Netflix. You instantly hear the sounds of “Spider-Man,” but your daughter is getting impatient, as her show hasn’t yet appeared. In another minute, the “Sesame Street” theme song finally plays, but your school board blog still isn’t up. You get another cup of coffee and wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, the site fills your screen.
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   This is what the Internet will look like if the Federal Communications Commission does not pass strict “Net neutrality” rules. While opponents have painted Net neutrality as government takeover of the Internet, it is actually meant to prevent a corporate takeover of free speech on the Web. Net neutrality means keeping the Internet as it has been since its inception, with users paying their Internet service provider a fee to access the Internet, and then freely choosing what to watch, hear, read or post – with no outside interference. Proponents include Google, Microsoft, AOL, Mozilla, eBay and thousands of small businesses. There is very little opposition to Net neutrality – except from the giant Internet service providers themselves.
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   Verizon, ATT, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are among the chief opponents of the current model. They are now the largest Internet service providers and have devised a more profitable model (for themselves) called “paid prioritization.” They want to charge higher fees to content providers (writers, moviemakers, application developers) who have the means to pay. Those providers who cannot pay more will suffer slower speeds.
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   The FCC passed a set of Net neutrality rules, called the 2010 Open Internet Order, trying to bar Internet service providers from blocking content or slowing purchases from retailers, but likely allowing paid prioritization. Verizon promptly sued the FCC, with the circular free speech argument that, as an Internet service provider, it has the editorial right to choose which services it wants to provide, and that right should be protected under the First Amendment.
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   Verizon won, but not on the First Amendment argument. The D.C Circuit Court of Appeals found the FCC could impose such rules but had adopted the wrong legal framework to do so. Prior to the Open Internet Order, the FCC classified broadband as an “information service” under Title I of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. But the court found the FCC was imposing regulations on the Internet service providers allowed only under Title II. Were broadband classified as a “telecommunications service,” the FCC could regulate Internet service providers as a common carrier. The court essentially gave the FCC a do-over.
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   Regulating broadband as a public utility is the only path that will keep the Internet service providers at bay, but the ISPs warn of years of litigation should the FCC take that route. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, former president of the National Cable TV Association, says Title II is still on the table, but not even FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, upon whom public interest advocates pin their hopes, was willing to commit to that path at Rep. Doris Matsui’s recent Net neutrality forum in Sacramento.
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   Of the 3.7 million comments from the public, 99 percent favor Net neutrality. That should count for something. Add a 3-2 Democratic voting advantage at the FCC, and you’d think this is a slam dunk.
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   Except that FCC watchers like myself have seen this show before. In 2003, the FCC ignored 3 million comments opposing cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers in the same town. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the agency to go back and listen to the public. So in 2007, the FCC again pretended to listen, then ignored the public again. It’s what they do.
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   Politically, Sen. Barbara Boxer favors Title II, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein has yet to commit. Matsui is leading the way with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., by introducing the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act to bar paid prioritization. But getting such legislation into law is no small task.
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   With a 3-2 Democratic advantage at the FCC (Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also favors Net neutrality), the commissioners could easily pass tough rules. But the agency historically is a victim of “regulatory capture.” Instead of serving the public, the FCC serves the very corporations it is supposed to be regulating. And with a former cable TV lobbyist chairing the FCC, the future could look brighter.
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   The California Public Utilities Commission could also have an impact, should it endorse common carrier status for Net neutrality.
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   Calls to all of these players could make a difference in the future of the Internet forever.
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   Don’t let them give our open Internet away.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/california-forum/article2674439.html#storylink=cpy

FCC: No More Equal Time Requirements for Political Campaign Supporters Over Our Public Airwaves.

May 19, 2014

The 2014 FCC has now spoken [PDF] in response to a complaint filed by my not-for-profit, the Media Action Center (MAC). Unfortunately, their response comes as little surprise.

It might, however, come as a surprise to the 1972 FCC. That year, the Federal Communications Commission discussed a ruling that became known as the "Zapple Doctrine". The rule extended the federal agency's interpretation of the equal time provisions, Section 315 of the Communications Act, to apply to supporters of candidates, as well as candidates themselves. If airtime was granted to a candidate over the public airwaves, equal time had to be made available to his or her opponent, if it was requested.
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Zapple expanded the equal time provision to apply to supporters of candidates as well. It only made common sense, as the FCC explained in 1972...
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What we were stating in Zapple was simply a common sense application of the statutory scheme. ... If the DNC were sold time for a number of spots, it is difficult to conceive on what basis the licensee could then refuse to sell comparable time to the RNC. Or, if during a campaign the latter were given a half-hour of free time to advance its cause, could a licensee fairly reject the subsequent request of the DNC that it be given a comparable opportunity? Clearly, these examples deal with exaggerated, hypothetical situations that would never arise. No licensee would try to act in such an arbitrary fashion.
"Exaggerated, hypothetical situations that would never arise?" Really? "No licensee would try to act in such an arbitrary fashion"?
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Hey, 1972 FCC, please meet the 2014 FCC.

"McCutcheon" Mints Millions for Mass Media

April 9, 2014
Originally Published at BradBlog.com

Guess who is popping the champagne cork over this week's Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon vs. FEC, which will allow wealthy individuals to donate virtually unlimited dollars to candidates, political parties, and political action groups?
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Why, broadcasters, of course. The same companies which operate on our publicly owned airwaves stand to gain the most from McCutcheon and its earlier obscene counterpart, Citizens United.
On Thursday, the radio industry newsletter Inside Radio wrote [subscription req'd] that the McCutcheon decision was "likely to boost [ad] spending" in 2014. They explain that the 2010 Citizens United decision "opened the floodgates to more dollars in politics and the result was record campaign spending on radio in 2012." They predict that the Court's ruling this week "could help spur even more spending.
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In another piece this week [also subscription req'd] the newsletter trumpets:
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Political ad spending forecast upsized.
More competitive races, combined with a greater number of outside groups that don't qualify for the lowest unit rate, have the potential to make the 2014 mid-term election cycle more ad intensive than first thought. So much so, that the analysts at Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), have boosted their political spending forecast. Kantar estimates radio could see $180 million in political ad spending by Election Day."
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$180 million? That's chump change when it comes to what the television industry stands to make. Bloomberg reports that TV stations will make in excess of $2.5 billion --- with a "B" --- from political ad sales in 2014. And that's nothing compared to what they expect to make in 2016 during a Presidential race.
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And of course, many, if not most of those ads mislead or outright lie to the very public in whose interest the broadcasters are licensed to serve.
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Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this picture?
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Overturning Citizens United and McCutcheon may take years, decades even, if it ever happens at all. But given that We the People have real power as the owners of the airwaves, I see some ways we can reduce at least some of the political ad spending, and perhaps take a lot of money out of politics...

Thoughts on McCutcheon v FEC

April 2, 2014
Today, the Supreme Court ruled in McCutheon v FEC that wealthy individuals may donate unlimited funds to candidates, political parties, and political action groups. Where does most of that money go?  Into local TV stations for political ads.
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I have written about a remedy before. When will we hold our broadcasters who are supposed to serve the public interest accountable for lying political ads?  
courtesy freedigitalphotos.net
















 
Excerpted from the BradBlog,
originally published June 8, 2012
Truth in Advertising
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Back to Citizens United: there is another obscure legal concept which could provide the citizenry with a tool for change --- without a Constitutional Amendment --- before the 2012 general election.
It turns out that if a candidate wants to buy airtime from a TV or radio station, the station must sell the time, and it may not vet or censor the ad in any way. (So, legally, candidates may lie to public as much as they want.)
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But third party ads, the ones which have been loosed by the Citizens United decision, are treated differently. Stations do not have to take those ads. If they do, and if those ads lie to the public, the stations may be held liable.
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Pause and think about holding your local TV station liable for lying third party ads. I can feel the shudder running through the halls of broadcast management right about now.
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Typically, it is a candidate who is being defamed in an ad that would file such a suit. That person, attorneys tell me, has the standing to file, as they are the ones being harmed by the ad.
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But when ads lie to public, over our publicly owned airwaves, aren't we the people also being damaged? Isn't our very democracy being damaged when local broadcasters, who are licensed to broadcast only if they serve the public interest, putting giant profits ahead of making certain that the ads are factual? We should have the standing to develop a class action suit asserting our right to factual campaign information over our public airwaves. Our First Amendment rights are paramount in broadcasting, after all, at least according to the United States Supreme Court.
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So stand up and exercise your rights! Set up meetings with your local radio and TV stations and demand fact checking of ads by local management. Sometimes they will respond positively. But realize that local licensees are owned by giant corporations, which often care little about service to the local community. So if they will not serve your needs, exercise your rights in any way you legally can. Send people in to do daily file inspections (which causes stations to hire extra staff), boycott their advertisers (which sends a financial chill through any station), challenge their licenses.
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Bringing about parity over our public airwaves is about finding narrow targets, aiming high and true, and educating the public for their support. Our motto at Media Action Center: "Know your rights. Be empowered. Put boots on the ground. And publicize."
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What the Scott Walker recall in Wisconsin teaches us is that broadcasting is the number one benefactor of the money in politics. But broadcasters are legally supposed to be benefiting their owners, We the People. It's time to stand up for the rights of the real owners of broadcasting - us.
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The FCC: Actually Enforcing Its Own Rules?

There is a new sheriff at the FCC, and it looks like Tom Wheeler is here to protect the townspeople, not the outlaws.
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As new chair, Wheeler explained in a statement last Thursday, "Protecting Television Consumers by Protecting Competition," the FCC is required by law to assess its media ownership rules every four years to determine if they need to be modified to serve the public interest. His predecessor, Julius Genachowski, ignored that law completely, meaning it's been six years since a review has been completed. But Wheeler seems to be taking this responsibility seriously, and states, "motivated by evidence that our rules protecting competition, diversity and localism have been circumvented, we will consider some changes to other Commission rules to enforce existing rules."
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We haven't heard an FCC chairman talk about enforcing rules since, well, since well before this writer started paying attention back in 1987.
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Note Wheeler's willingness to close the "Joint Services Agreement" loophole, which has allowed two TV stations in one town to be operated, if not owned, by the same owner. (TV viewers experience this when they watch the same news and reporters on two different channels in their towns.) He is also looking at local radio and TV ownership rules, which I have written about at length before, as well as the current prohibition on the cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations.
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If broadcast station owners held the same standards of fairness and duty to the public interest they did at the onset of broadcasting, we wouldn't need all these rules. But these times, they are a changing, and both profit and politics too often trumps the public interest.
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This can best be seen in the state of Wisconsin.

Who Controls the Corporate Media Message?

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The question I hear time and time again from audiences who see my documentary film, Broadcast Blues is, "Why did you leave your lucrative career in broadcasting to become a media reform activist?"
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The truth is that, once upon a time, I worked in a newsroom where a corporate owner ordered me, a reporter, to skew my reporting to purposely make a man on trial for murder --- look guilty.
In an instant, my entire life changed. The trust I'd had in my news organization vanished. And the deeper I looked into the way corporate owners manage the message they want the public to hear, the more disillusioned I became.
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There is more to that story --- so much more --- but you'll have to wait for me to finish my book to get all the chilling details on it.
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But this is the kind of story that many reporters could tell, if only they dared. But when they dare, as Jane Akre and Steve Wilson did, they can get fired for telling the truth. (Who can forget the story of these Fox affiliate investigative reporters who tried to report on Monsanto Bovine Growth Hormone being injected into cattle, only for it to then be found in the milk supply, which experts said could cause cancer? WTVT fired them after Monsanto complained to Fox "News" chief Roger Ailes.) The reporters filed a whistleblower suit, and Akre won. But Fox won in the end, by getting a court order that, legally, news does not have to be true. Akre and Wilson lost not only their jobs, but ended up having to pay Fox' attorney fees. (See my story from Broadcast Blues on this case, including courtroom footage here.)
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This is the kind of information I suspect the FCC was hoping to tease out in their planned "Multi-market Study of Critical Information Needs" [PDF] which, as I wrote last week at The BRAD BLOG, sparked a right wing firestorm in recent weeks when Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai went public with a Wall Street Journal op-ed accusing his colleagues of "meddling with the news" by simply asking voluntary questions of newsrooms. The study was part of the FCC's statutory requirement to report to Congress every three years, as they have for decades, on identifying "barriers to entry into the communications marketplace faced by entrepreneurs and other small businesses."
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The question for reporters from the CIN study that was most disturbing to Pai: "Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?"...

The Agitprop of Ajit Pai: The Republican FCC Commissioner Calls Out the Troops


The entire right-wing mediasphere flexed its powerful muscles last week against its only regulator, the Federal Communications Commission.
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It started when Republican FCC Commissioner, Ajit Pai, ignored traditional inter-agency channels and went straight to the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal to accuse his colleagues of "meddling with the news."
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That was all it took.
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Pai's beef? That the FCC would be conducting a "Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs" (CIN) to question radio and TV reporters and editors about how they determine which stories to run and which not to run. The study would also ask ask about "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations."
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As I reported at The BRAD BLOG way back in 2011, "The FCC is tasked with making sure the broadcast media --- via the limited broadcast spectrum which is owned by we, the people -- serves the public interest. Every four years, as required by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC must revisit the issue of public interest in media ownership." Despite the right wing hyperventilation over the nefariousness of the CIN study, it's simply part of the FCC's statutory mandate, as explained here.
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What's most interesting, however, is that Pai enlisted the very same right wing Pied Pipers who have long taken control of and, indeed, dominate the very airwaves we ALL own, and which most of us agree need more diversity and public oversight -- in hopes of intimidating the new Democratic FCC Chair Tom Wheeler into providing less diversity and public oversight. That bit of upside-down policy jujitsu was, ironically enough, enabled by the tremendous power of broadcasting over our publicly-owned airwaves.
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Following the siren call of Pai's piping, both Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck dutifully took to those airwaves coast-to-coast to work their 30 million or so radio listeners into a frenzy to prevent the FCC from following the agency's decades-long mandate for determining whether local broadcast news organizations are serving the "public interest" or whether they are merely producing news stories mandated by their corporate owners.
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Pai's ploy appears to have worked...

The Post Facebook Will Not Allow You to Read

Update March 13, 2014:
The Facebook block turns out to be a faulty link.  But I'll keep this story up as Liz echoes many journalists' views.
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The Audacity of Hype: A President's Assault on the First Amendment
by Liz Warren

 I am an optimist by nature but lately I seem to have lost the tap shoes for my happy dance. Though some may be comforted by recent assurances from the White House that freedom of the press is alive and well in America, I remain a skeptic. Regrettably, I think I've passed the point of no return when it comes to trusting my president.

I really wish this weren't so.

His speech today was nothing more than damage-controlling spin at its finest. (I did a stint as a publicist and still have the BS decoder ring.) That L.A. Times reporter David Savage didn't question the obvious disingenuousness of the president's rhetoric is a bit surprising. But the fact that he simply hopped on board with the calculated qualifier "our focus must be on those who break the law" is heartbreaking.

Who's Accountable for Reckless Broadcasting?



 November 12, 2013

Who is Accountable for Reckless Broadcasting?
A couple of weeks ago, through my non-profit project, the Media Action Center, I filed a Petition to Deny the renewal of the broadcast license of a radio station in Sacramento because, simply put, they killed a woman.

While the radio station's insurance company paid millions after they were found guilty for negligence in a lawsuit, the station itself never paid any price, as you or I would, if we had killed someone, even accidentally. The death, however, can barely be called an accident, as the jury discovered.

And now, it's up to the FCC as to whether they force real accountability in this matter, by denying renewal of the station's license to broadcast over our public airwaves. 

In 2007, Entercom Sacramento's KDND sponsored a water drinking contest called "Hold Your Wee for a Wii." The idea was to compete to see who could drink the most water without peeing; "last man standing" would win a Nintendo Wii!  But the stunt went bad, so bad that 28 year old mother of three, Jennifer Strange, died as a result



Her family hired a lawyer, who did two things:  he filed a lawsuit against Entercom and he wrote to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking that the station's license be revoked.

The attorney, Roger Dreyer, won his lawsuit and a $16.6 million dollar award for the family in 2009.  The jury in William A. Strange v Entercom unanimously decided Entercom Sacramento was 100% liable for Mrs. Strange's death. 

The jury understood that her death was caused by no mere accident, but rather more like by a reckless driver careening down the wrong side of a busy freeway doing 120 mph. 

Media Action Center Files Petition to Deny KDND's Broadcast License



PRESS RELEASE
contact: sue@mediaactioncenter.net 
 
The Media Action Center has published its "Petition to Deny" the renewal of the broadcast license of KDND-FM, the Entercom radio station in Sacramento found liable for the 2007 death of Jennifer Strange in a water drinking stunt.   November 1 is the final day for the public to challenge California radio stations' licenses in the 2005 - 2013 license renewal period.
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The pleading documents that not only did KDND staff know they were promoting a stunt that could kill someone, they never informed contestants of that fact. It further documents that Entercom staff and management had no training in safety procedures for contestants, and completely ignored contestants who became violently ill throughout the course of the contest.  Furthermore, the pleading shows that once Entercom management learned of Mrs. Strange's death, they chose not to call other contestants to warn them of potential hazards to their health, choosing instead to call attorneys.  In addition, it shows that Entercom has engaged in a pattern of conduct which proves it does not have the character qualifications to hold an FCC license to broadcast, including indecency violations, payola, defamation of character, deceiving listeners, and more.
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"The question is not whether Entercom deserves to lose its license to broadcast, but rather will the Federal Communications Commission act?" says MAC director Sue Wilson.  "Another 'Petition to Deny' KDND's license was filed November 1, 2005, and has never been adjudicated.  If it had, it possible that Jennifer Strange would be alive today."
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The FCC is the Federal agency tasked with overseeing broadcasters so they serve the public interest.  Wilson will go to the FCC November 13 and 14 to insist that the agency acts on this Petition, as well as many others that have languished for years.
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The "Petition to Deny" can be found here: http://www.mediaactioncenter.net/p/blog-page_760.html


Step Up to the Microphone!

September 9, 2013

Scan across just about any radio dial in the entire country, and you'll hear exactly the same big city, big corporate programming: Rush Limbaugh, Fox Sports, Top 40, NPR.
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But what about local programming? Where are the reporters covering the city council or the county board of supervisors? High school football or Little League? Bake sales or community events? This kind of homegrown programming was once the heart and soul of radio. It formed a public square that informed listeners about the community's very identity.
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We've missed that spirit of radio since 1996, when Bill Clinton and Congress decided to allow a few national companies to program the entire nation with their corporate choices of music, sports, and political talk, local needs be damned.
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But thanks to activists ranging from the Philadelphia area Prometheus Radio to the Davis, California non-profit Common Frequency, the true heart and soul of radio may be coming back -- if people in local communities choose to be the media they want to hear.
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On Your Marks, Get Set, Go!



        
FCC ANNOUNCES DATE TO APPLY FOR NEW COMMUNITY RADIO STATIONS
Once in Lifetime Opportunity to Own Local  Low Power FM Radio!


It's official:  Local community groups will finally have an opportunity to be heard on their own radio stations in their own towns.  The Federal Communcations Commission has announced the official process to apply for these low power FM stations, but there's a catch:  all applications must be filed between October 15 and October 29, 2013.