Should All Radio Be Created Equal?
November 11, 2004

Saul Levine's Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters has petitioned the FCC to include an indecency provision in the rules that govern satellite radio. Levine's argument is that satellite radio is not heard exclusively by subscribers and that it should be subject to the same rules as terrestrial radio.

"The key is to have a level playing field," Levine told FMQB. "The FCC has the authority to regulate satellite radio and in fact already does regulate it in two respects: The EEO requirements that apply to radio stations also apply to satellite radio, and the rules on political broadcasts also apply to both. The FCC said back in 1997 when it authorized satellite radio that they would revisit, at a later time, additional regulations."

Levine noted that he is not trying to "curb Howard Stern or curb anybody, we're just saying that whatever rules that apply [to us] should apply to them too."

He continued, "Their defense is that they're 100% subscription, and therefore only people who want to hear obscene language will hear it. But they're not 100% subscription. They make it available to car rentals without any charge and there are no controls on it - families rent cars and they can pick it up. It's a misconception that satellite radio is subscription radio. It's not true - the FCC said they can sell advertising or have subscriptions - they can do either. So it's not subscription only. It's not 100% commercial free. It is going to be available to minors. So the bottom line is, we're not trying to impose any censorship on satellite radio that there isn't already on terrestrial radio."

Levine's petition was filed on November 5 and it asks that the FCC open a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would mandate that no satcaster "shall transmit any material which is obscene" and that indecent material should be prohibited between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., just as it is with terrestrial radio. It could take three months to a year before the FCC will rule or act on the petition, Levine said.

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