Hazlett Cited on Low-Power FM Allocation

Analysis by Professor Thomas Hazlett and Bruno Viani indicates that FM could accommodate upward of 98,000 new low-power radio stations without interference, indicating that the government could allocate broadcast spectrum more aggressively than it has.

Hazlett's research was cited widely in a Slate article critical of media reform but supporting reformists' efforts to expand the number of low-power FM radio stations in the U.S.

What the "Media Reformers" Get Right, Slate, January 16, 2007. By Jack Shafer.

"The proponents of low-power radio have made a huge deal out of the congressional rewrite of the FCC regs, but according to analysis by scholars Thomas W. Hazlett and Bruno E. Viani, it wasn't much of a rewrite: The FCC would have allowed about 2,300 new stations, while the law passed by Congress limits the number to about 1,300. If a low-power FM scandal exists, it's that the FCC was overly restrictive in writing its rules: Hazlett and Viani calculate that FM could accommodate upward of 98,000 new low-power stations without interference. (Their projection excluded the top four U.S. markets, although they note that there is room for low-power stations there, too.) In other words, Congress and the FCC agreed more than they disagreed about how many new stations to allow.

"According to Hazlett and Viani, by mid-2004, only 290 low-power FM stations existed, and of these, 'about two-thirds were outside the 269 radio markets which overwhelmingly account for industry sales.' About 700 licenses have been approved so far, reports the Prometheus Radio Project.

"The number of stations might be higher had Congress not essentially frozen the low-power stations out of the top 50 urban markets, as Klinenberg writes. Hazlett and Viani blame other restrictions, but these restrictions were completely in synch with the media reformers' agenda: The stations were required to be nonprofit, noncommercial, and ownership of multiple stations was prohibited.

"A totalitarian state would have gotten a similarly low number of new entries if its ministry of communications decided to 'reform' its newspaper-licensing practices along the same lines: No new papers in the biggest cities; no high-circulation papers; no profit-taking; and no owning more than one.

"I know this will cause the reformistas' heads to explode, but I've got to write it: What's preventing low-power FM from flourishing as a genuine alternative to big media is not too much capitalism, but too little."

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