Federal involvement in payola, online music licensing and low power FM (LPFM) stations were the hot topics at this year's Future of Music Coalition Summit held Sept. 11-13 in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Federal involvement in payola, online music licensing and low power FM (LPFM) stations were the hot topics at this year's Future of Music Coalition Summit held Sept. 11-13 in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D.- N.Y., announced the introduction of the "Enhance and Protect Local Community Radio Act of 2005" on Sept. 13 in a speech to attendees. The FMC supports artist alternatives to major label business models.

LPFMs already dot rural areas. In her announcement to open up 100-watt LPFM stations to urban communities, Slaughter cited her early love of a wide variety of music on the radio in her childhood home of Harlan, Ky. She said she believes that radio consolidation has robbed today's young listeners of exposure to diversity of music and views.

The bill authorizes the Federal Communications Commission to allow LPFMs in cities as well as rural areas, and would have a community flavor and greater diversity of music and public affairs program.

Both bills seek to repeal the current law -- which was pushed by the National Assn. of Broadcasters -- that require LPFM stations to protect third-adjacent FM channels from potential signal interference. Slaughter says a three-year Congressionally mandated study showed clearly that such 100 watt low power stations would not produce interference on existing big FM stations.

The proposed legislation is a companion to the bill introduced by Sen. John McCain, R., Ariz., back in February, the "Local Community Radio Act of 2005." McCain has been dismayed by the negative fallout of radio consolidation.

Talk of an impending introduction of a federal payola bill, to be authored by long-time media consolidation foe Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., circulated at the FMC summit, prompting a call to the lawmaker's office.

A spokesman for Feingold confirmed to ELW that the senator is planning to attach an amendment to an appropriations bill that would require the FCC to report to Congress on what can be done to counter the negative fallout of media consolidation, especially payola.

Such an amendment would follow evidence of payola and undisclosed pay-for-play practices uncovered this summer by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

In that investigation, Spitzer announced July 25 that Sony BMG had agreed to pay $10 million settlement for the unlawful business practices.

With the Spitzer subpoenaed evidence in the FCC's lap, the commission is under the gun to act. Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein told music community advocates Sept. 7 that he plans "to put the fear of God" into broadcasters to abide by the FCC's payola rules.

In related D.C. news, keynoter Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., who sits of the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property, told attendees that he supports statements by House Republicans and Democrats that they will introduce legislation to streamline online music licensing if private sector players cannot arrive at a consensus on how to modify the current law, which all say is inefficient in the digital age.

Proposals by the Copyright Office to reform Section 115 of the Copyright Act include elimination of the compulsory mechanical license or blending mechanical and performance right into a one-stop "uni-license" shopping for online music service users.

Boucher told ELW that if currently warring players, primarily online service reps and music publishers, can't come to a negotiated settlement on changes and rates by late fall, he would co-sponsor a bill.

Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the subcommittee has also said he would introduce such a bill, as has the ranking Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman.

Boucher said he'd "defer" from saying which proposal he'd prefer until the parties arrive at an agreement -- or not.

Talks broke down between the parties late last month, followed by letters accusing each other of bad-faith negotiations.

Additional reporting by Tony Sanders.