In an interesting turn of events, the U.S. Attorney for Vermont and the FCC seem to be trying to avoid bringing jackbooted federal marshals into downtown Brattleboro to shut down that city’s unlicensed community station. Instead, they have filed a civil suit against Radio Free Brattleboro and its co-founder.
This comes a month after RFB received a letter from the U.S. Attorney warning them of imminent FCC action, giving them a last chance to go off the air to avoid it. But RFB is an extremely popular station in Brattleboro, which otherwise has no community radio station, with thousands of petition signatures to prove it.
In the civil suit, the FCC is asking the federal District Court to take RFB off the air, but that does not necessarily result in any immediate action against the station. In response RFB has filed a counter-suit, arguing that:
“[RFB] will suffer ongoing irreparable injury due to the FCCÂ’s abuse of discretion and its arbitrary and capricious actions in failing to provide the 10-watt LPFM power classification with licensing procedures and licenses. …
Moreover, and in addition to abusing its discretion to regulate, the FCC failure to provide licensing is an abridgement of the plaintiffsÂ’ First Amendment rights to engage in speech activity that is protected by the First Amendment.
It’s an argument similar to the one used by Free Radio Berkeley in its legal fight against the FCC. And, so, it’s important to note that FRB lost its case due to what amounts to a technicality — Judge Wilkin of the 9th Circuit Court decided that FRB had no standing in its challenge to the FCC because they had never applied for a license, and thus never been denied one.
It would seem that the good will RFB has built up in its local community combined with the relatively more neighborly nature of a small state like Vermont have helped RFB stave off a more agressive FCC action. By comparison, San Franciso Liberation Radio enjoyed a similar kind of community support, including a resolution of support from the City Council that even implored local police not to cooperate with the FCC. Nevertheless, that unlicensed station met with an armed police raid back in October.
Right now Radio Free Brattleboro is anxiously awaiting the town’s Meeting Day on March 3, during which elections are held. On the ballot there is a non-binding resolution that asks “the voters of Brattleboro give to radio free brattleboro (rfb) authority to broadcast.”
During an interview that aired on the Jan. 23 edition of the radioshow, RFB volunteer Sara Longsmith said that the station would comply with any court order to shut down the station, but otherwise would stay on the air. So, for the moment at least, it looks like the station could still be on the air to cover their ballot initiative.