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Telecommunications Act broadcasts goodness

Marc Maron and Zach Galifianakis participating in a Doug Loves Movies podcast at the 2012 L.A. Pod Fest. Podcasts are part of the new generation of audio listening.| Courtesy Wikimedia commons

Podcasts are part of the new generation of audio listening, and many notable celebrities, such as Marc Maron (Left) and Zach Galifanakis (Right), are engaged in the new era of communication. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It’s been two decades since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

It’s an act that received bipartisan support, relaxed regulations from the Federal Communications Commission and gave rise to the prevalence of cross-media ownership. It also led to a concentration of market share among a few firms in the media landscape as we entered a new millennium.

The act also marked the beginning of radio homogenization although, large portions of it were devoted to to telephone, television broadcasting and broadband internet regulations. For instance, iHeartMedia Inc., which formerly operated under Clear Channel Communications, owns a disproportionate number of stations in U.S. and Canadian markets.

Cumulus Media Inc. owns the second-largest number of stations in those markets, but it barely has above half the number of stations owned by iHeartMedia — to put it in perspective.

While a few firms enjoy majority market exposure, there are sliding-scale restrictions that limit the number of stations an entity may own in a local market based on the market’s size and the type of frequency on which the stations are broadcast (AM vs. FM).

The way we define the radio platform has largely changed since the adoption of the act with the recent introduction of online radio, satellite radio and podcasts.

Taking aside the harmful effects of media conglomeration, there is a program FCC created in 2000 that deserves credit.

The New York Times reported that more than 2,000 FM stations have received new licenses from the FCC in the past two years under the laudable Low Power FM radio service. Even more deserving of praise is how the stations must have a noncommercial educational intent to obtain a license.

The provisions have restrictions concerning the broadcast range and limit the effective radiated power to 100 watts, a reach that has an approximate radius of 3.5 miles. This has a number of important implications, the largest of which being the lack of barriers to enjoy this medium.

Just about any media platform requires some sort of service that costs money and a substantial investment in the equipment to use it — from television to internet service.

A radio, on the other hand, is one of the cheapest apparatuses to purchase. A user only need to find the right frequency to access information.

An additional benefit is that the denser the population, the larger the potential reach of these stations. More of the former equals to the more urban the surrounding area is, which often leads to a larger cross section of diversity.

These Low Power FM stations offer an opportunity for the intricacies of this urban population to have a platform, to have their selves and interests represented.

Despite the sweeping changes in the two decades following the legislation’s implementation in 1996, the program is, for me, what makes the FCC deserves praise.

I doubt these stations will ever collectively hold a majority share of the radio market. Still, it’s not the number of people a local organization reaches that’s important; it’s the fact that they have the opportunity in the first place.

Opinion columnist Nicholas Bell is an MBA graduate student and can be reached at [email protected]

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