Goaltenders

Suppose you're at your first hockey game and you're not sure why the referee just made a certain call. Or maybe you don't speak English and can't understand the announcements on the public address system. Maybe you'd like to hear some play-by-play coverage, like you would get watching the game at home. Maybe you're blind or hard of hearing and could use some extra information about what's happening on the rink.

The National Hockey League has an idea: It wants the Federal Communications Commission to let promoters set up antennas inside indoor arenas and transmit radio signals to the fans in the stands. Such an "event broadcasting" system could offer any of the above services, plus pre-game entertainment, emergency announcements, ads for the concession stand, and more. The NHL first suggested the idea in April 1998, and the commission asked for public comments on it in July 1999.

The proposal doesn't sound very controversial, but it has provoked some venomous protests. By making its suggestion when it did, the NHL inadvertently stumbled into the fight over legalizing low-power radio, a battle that pits the National Association of Broadcasters, a lobby created to maintain radio and TV stations' privileges, against a loose coalition of people who'd like to start stations of their own: small businesses, leftist collectives, churches, schools, musicians. (See "Radio Waves," June.) It turns out the members of the NAB are so afraid of the marketplace, they don't want to compete even with a station that can't be heard outside a single hockey rink.

The association submitted its complaints to the FCC in August. Among its arguments:

■ There's no need to broadcast information about the rules the referees are enforcing, because "information for the novice fan on game rules and play may be delivered through a better-edited and lower-priced printed game program."

■ There's no need to cover games in other languages, because the league "could implement multi-language announcing through its public address announcers, similar to that used in international competitions." And again, "important notices and game play information could be delivered through secondary language printed game programs."

■ "Local, regional, and national sports teams could also want licenses for their indoor facilities....Consequently, large high school gymnasiums, municipal hockey rinks, collegiate athletic facilities, NFL domed stadiums as well as indoor tennis pavilions would all be eligible for a license under the NHL's proposal. The low cost of indoor broadcast equipment combined with the vast number of eligible indoor sport facilities could lead to thousands of licenses that would require FCC policing."

In other words, some people might take a cheap, convenient technology and adapt it to offer services that other people might want. Evidently, this is the sort of thing that sends the National Association of Broadcasters into fits.

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