After opposition from large broadcasters and some Republicans in Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in December awarded low-power broadcasting licenses to just 255 community groups, many of which are religious organizations. More than 1,200 had applied for licenses in the first 20 states eligible under the program.

The FCC's initial attempt to grant at least 1,000 licenses fell short during former President Bill Clinton's final days in office. Congress is setting new standards that observers say will make it extremely difficult for licenses to be issued in all but the smallest cities.

Former FCC Chairman William E. Kennard had sought to allow community groups to operate 100-watt fm stations, which would have a broadcasting radius of just a few miles. But some of the nation's largest broadcasters objected, with support from National Religious Broadcasters, citing possible interference with the signals of existing stations (CT, Oct. 2, 2000, p. 22).

Kennard and others believe the real motive is a fear of competition. Michael Smith, chairman of the school of journalism at Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia, agrees.

"I sense this may be a business consideration," Smith said. "My suspicion is that business people have put their finger in the wind and said, 'We're going to lose our share.' But the loser will be ordinary Americans."

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