NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Federal regulators plan to give Howard Stern the freedom he wants in 2006.
The Federal Communications Commission, the guardian of federal decency laws, indicated Wednesday that it will not extend rules prohibiting obscene and offensive programming on the public airwaves to satellite, or paid, radio.
The FCC signal came in the form of a letter released Wednesday that declined a request by a Los Angeles radio station owner to amend satellite radio licensing rules to include an obscenity provision.
Broadcasting & Cable, a trade paper covering the telecommunications industry that first reported the FCC letter, said the agency was responding to a petition made in connection with Stern's planned move to Sirius Satellite Radio in January 2006.
Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters requested the obscenity provision Oct. 28, within weeks after Stern announced he was moving to satellite radio.
Stern has said he is leaving Infinity Broadcasting, the country's No. 2 public radio operator and a Viacom unit, when his current employment contract expires in part because of the government's recent crackdown on television and radio programming deemed indecent.
In making his announcement, Stern railed against public radio and said he would try to destroy it when he joins Sirius (Research).
Mt. Wilson founder Saul Levine told Broadcasting & Cable that he was alarmed by Stern's pledge and "decided to fight back to protect the radio industry."
In its petition, Mt. Wilson asked the FCC to add an indecency provision to its Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service Rules.
In a letter to Levine posted on its Web site Wednesday, the FCC rejected that request. The agency cited prior FCC rulings, one of which states that "subscription-based services do not call into play the issue of indecency."
The FCC hands-off approach could change. Some supporters of more stringent laws governing television and radio broadcasts are calling on Congress to enact legislation that would extend FCC oversight to subscription services.
Congress has not yet heeded those calls, but it's only a matter of time before it does, said Jeffrey McCall, a communication professor at DePauw University.
"Supposedly the FCC's efforts to control indecent content are to protect children. Children watch cable TV like everybody else," said McCall. At some point, the federal government "is going to have to wrestle with this issue."
McCall predicts that the issue of regulating paid programming, when it comes up, is sure to be controversial. "It's going to be a hot (political) potato," he said.