Risking the wrath of Congress, the Federal Communications Commission appears on the verge of dropping any immediate effort to grant television and other broadcasting licenses through a lottery.
Although Congress directed the commission last summer to come up with a lottery system to speed the approval process for broadcasting licenses, agency sources predict the FCC may vote against a lottery in a meeting today.
Many commissioners fear the lottery would be unworkable because the agency is required to give preference to too many groups. Congress directed the FCC to give preference to minorities and to women and groups underrepresented in the ownership of telecommunciations facilities, such as labor unions and community organizations.
FCC staff members also contend the lottery would not be any faster than the current cumbersome process involving lengthy hearings. Hearings would still have to be held to make sure applicants are qualified to own a broadcasting permit before a lottery could be held, the aides say.
Thus, one officials predicts, "it looks to me as if the commission will not adopt a lottery but rather ask Congress for further directions."
That prediction, however, could be upset by last-minute pressure. Late last week House and Senate aides warned the FCC to set groundrules, at least, for a lottery.
Convinced that a lottery is workable, congressional aides argue the law leaves the FCC with no choice but to approve a system this week--even though the law also says the FCC does not have to use the lottery in awarding licenses.
Congress wanted the lottery primarily to speed up approval of a new television service--low-power television stations that would broadcast on any available VHF or UHF stations, but within a far smaller range than existing stations to avoid interference with them.
With the new stations cheaper to build, operate and maintain, the commission had hoped that minorities, community organizations and other groups would be able to become part of the telecommunications industry.
Since approving the service 15 months ago, the commission has received nearly 5,000 applications for licenses, with dozens seeking the same station.