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Stopping radio station KRPI -- an exercise in local, national and international politics

I’m back. My apologies to my regular readers but I have been preoccupied, my time commandeered and my energy hijacked by a nutty, insane project: trying to block a bunch of deep-pocketed rat-bastards from building a Brobdingnagian array of AM broadcasting towers in our Lilliputian community.

In an earlier post I told you a bit about Point Roberts, the geopolitical exclave where I, and a mixed bag of some 1,300 others, live. We’re a quiet bunch here, content to deal with local issues like raising money for a new library, getting a lighthouse at our lightless Lighthouse Park (which, in a way, kinda fits our funky community) and arguing over stuff like how wide a walking/cycling path should be. We do not want or need a monstrosity that will consist of five 150-foot steel towers plunked down on a richly wooded 10 acre lot a stone’s throw from the border with Canada.

At first we thought we just had to let the county planners know about our opposition. So we did. Howls of protest, passionate letters, vituperative emails, visits to the county seat all went for naught. The powers that be and the moneyed folks behind projects like these don’t give a rat’s ass who’s upset. If there’s money to be made they will fight you at every turn. We shifted gears, toned down the passion and formed a “cross-border coalition” — because this mess impacts Canadians as well as Americans.

We focused on law, zoning codes, survey data, court cases, international treaties, sightline analyses, public protests, politics, history and money raising (lawyers ain’t cheap). No longer the pacific residents of the easy-going Northwest we have morphed into a bunch of really vicious bastards.

The battle lines have been joined and they encompass the Federal Communications Commission, Homeland Security and the US Customs and Border Patrol, Whatcom County’s Planning and Development Services, Industry Canada, the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission, Canadian politicians in British Columbia and Ottawa, our US Senators and Representatives in Congress, a prominent law firm in DC, a small stable of local lawyers, electrical and civil engineers in both the US and Canada and a surveyor. In the past months I’ve given talks to various groups on both sides of the border and had meetings with the most unlikely people including a Minister in the Canadian government and the Mayor of Delta, BC who is addressed in all official settings as “Your Worship.” Makes you want to just run for that office, doesn’t it?

I won’t bore you with gory details (they are many and they are gory) but, briefly, what we found as we dug was that BBC Broadcasting (yup, that’s their name though they have nothing to do with the real “Beeb”) appears to have been operating in violation of Federal law for a decade. It is not really an American company but is operated out of Canada under the name “Sher-E-Punjab, Inc.” BBC Broadcasting is a “shell” corporation set up behind the name of an American citizen who probably doesn’t even know how to turn a radio on. They want to move their towers to Point Roberts because it is where it is — right on the border. By transmitting from here they can better reach their listeners virtually all of whom live in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and speak Punjabi, the language which all programs are broadcast in.

But, in transmitting from Point Roberts they will also be flooding, not just the several hundred homes here, but the 23,000 residents who live just north of the border with what’s called “blanketing interference.” You may not know what that is but if you live within a mile or so of a 50,000 watt AM transmitter you sure as hell do. It screws up radio and TV reception, messes with DSL lines, makes cordless phones nearly useless and can even make the speakers of your hi fi system start “broadcasting” the signal. A church in Ferndale, where the towers currently are, has complained bitterly about Punjabi music coming over their public address system during services. Stations that broadcast with this kind of power are called “blowtorches” for damn good reasons. Blanketing interference is called that for equally good reasons.

In short, we have a Canadian company quite happy to screw up the electronic devices of thousands of Canadians in order to boost profits (which come from Canadian advertising) using an empty American company which shares a name with a famous UK telecommunications giant (surely, there’s a trademark violation in there) as a front to hold a license that was granted under false pretenses. Cute, eh?

We also discovered that the company has been applying for broadcasting licenses in both Canada and the US and in each application they tell a different story. In the US, BBC tells the FCC that they’re serving the folks in our corner of Washington State. In Canada, Sher-E-Punjab tells the CRTC that the target group is the South Asian community in BC.

Amusingly (provided you have a twisted sense of humor), in their application to the FCC this Canadian company never mentioned those 23,000 folks in Canada. In the maps they supplied, Canada is blanked out. It appears as a large, dull-brown area — no roads, no towns, rivers, people — just CANADA printed in tiny letters. Why? Because this way the FCC didn’t know about these people and wouldn’t be obliged to notify Industry Canada about the interference problem which international treaties demand. In their Canadian applications they claim that they have no real financial interest in BBC Broadcasting and no role in determining company policy. Why? Because they need the CRTC to believe they are totally committed to Canadian issues and needs.

Since we stopped howling at the moon and turned into a pack of data-sifters and internet-surfers, we’ve been busy. We have amassed bucket-loads of data on the company, its dealings, the family that owns it and their business practices. We have filed petitions with the FCC to block the renewal of BBC’s license focusing on what’s known as the “Alien Ownership” clause. Our new political friends north of the border have directed Industry Canada to file an objection with the FCC to reconsider the original tower-relocation decision citing international treaties. We have called on Homeland Security to explore possible disruptions of electronic monitoring at the border. We’ve submitted position papers to our local planning department imploring them to deny the permit to build. We will soon be filing formal objections with the CRTC to deny Sher-E-Punjab a Canadian broadcasting license. Our next step may be the most interesting one…. We will, if the moment is right, have our lawyers approach their lawyers with a offer: cancel the plan to build the towers and we’ll call off the dogs.

I’ll post later when we know how this all turns out.

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