FCC announces LPFM details

Mar 20, 2012 12:43 pm
Radio Ink Magazine has the details of the Federal Communications Commission two orders to implement the Local Community Radio Act. The FCC release says, "The items help promote community radio through the licensing of low power FM (LPFM) and FM translator stations, advancing the LCRA and Commission goal of fostering localism and diversity in the radio landscape." “We are pleased that the FCC has taken such a careful approach to preserving channels for community radio,” said Brandy Doyle, Policy Director for the Prometheus Radio Project. “And we’re particularly glad that the FCC has taken our recommendation to ensure that the frequencies set aside are in populated areas, where they are needed. This will make a big difference in San Antonio, Sacramento, and 12 other mid-sized markets, where stations too far from the city would have reached only tumbleweeds or farmland."

Paul Thurst at Enginneering Radio says the announcement:

• "The FCC has more or less stuck with it’s plan to keep a minimum number LPFM channels available in the top 150 markets. This also includes a 50 application limit for the country and no more than one application per market per applicant. Where conflicts occur, translator applicants get the chance to demonstrate how their application would not preclude LPFM opportunities."

• [It] "Modifies (eventually eliminates) the May 1, 2009 cut of date for cross service (AM to FM) translators."

• "New LPFM allocations [are established] under the criteria of disregarding the third adjacent channel contours."

• [FCC added] "More stringent requirements for local programming and ownership, especially as a determining factor for mutual LPFM applications."

• "Allows LPFM stations to own translators."

• "New class LPFM is established; the LP250. The 250-watt LPFM stations are designed mainly for areas outside of top fifty markets or for previously licensed LP-100 stations that want to upgrade provided the minimum separation contours are met with existing stations."

From Paul Riismandel of Radio Survivor:

"One of the main challenges facing the FCC is the backlog of 6500 applications for FM translator repeater stations. Because of the relaxed spacing requirements enacted by the LCRA, many of these translator applications would compete for spaces on the dial that would otherwise be suitable for a new LPFM community station. While the Commission will proceed with reviewing these translator applications before accepting new LPFM apps, in its Fourth Report and Order [PDF] the Commission sets forth procedures to ensure that frequencies appropriate for LPFM stations remain, especially in densely populated urban areas that are underserved by existing broadcast media.

The Commission explicitly acknowledges that the next licensing window for LPFM “presents a critical, and indeed possibly a last, opportunity to nurture and promote a community radio service that can respond to unmet listener needs and underserved communities in many urban areas.” At the same time, the FCC finds that since translator stations have more flexible licensing standards the next LPFM licensing round, “will have only a modest impact on licensing opportunities for future translator stations.” Therefore the Commission is favoring the licensing of LPFM stations because they “are uniquely positioned to meet local needs, particularly in areas of higher population density where LPFM service is practical and sustainable....

However, in a nod to the National Association of Broadcasters, the FCC also agrees to give current translator applicants in these so-called “spectrum limited” markets the opportunity to demonstrate that their applications would not preclude any LPFM opportunities, if granted. The Commission will also allow these applicants one opportunity to make minor changes to their applications in order to meet this requirement.”

From Radio Ink, their version of the details of the Fourth Report & Order:

• Sets forth a revised spectrum availability analysis that better identifies and protects areas with significant populations where LPFM service is most practical and sustainable.

• Gives translator applicants proposing to serve spectrum-limited areas an ability to demonstrate that their applications, if granted, would not preclude certain identified LPFM opportunities.

• Adopts a national cap of 50 applications and a market-based cap of one application per applicant per market for the most spectrum-limited markets, minimizing the potential for speculative licensing conduct and modifies the May 1, 2009, date restriction to allow pending FM translator applications that are subsequently granted to be used as cross-service translators.

The Fifth Report and Order and Fourth Further Notice
From Radio Ink: "As required by the LCRA, the Fifth Report and Order eliminates the third-adjacent channel spacing requirements applicable to LPFM stations. The Fourth Further Notice seeks comment on how to implement other provisions of the LCRA related to waivers of the second-adjacent channel spacing requirements, third-adjacent channel interference, and interference to the input signals for FM translators.

The Fourth Further Notice also recommends changes to the FCC’s rules to help promote a more sustainable community radio service while preserving the technical integrity of all of the FM services. The Fourth Further Notice seeks comment on proposals to reduce the potential for licensing abuses and other proposals to promote a vigorous community radio service. These include:

• Elimination of the LP10 class of service and an increase of the maximum LPFM facilities in certain areas;

• An amendment of the eligibility rules to permit Native Nations to own and operate LPFM stations, an amendment of the cross-ownership and multiple ownership rules to assist Native Nations in establishing radio service to their members living on tribal land, and an addition of a Native Nation criterion to the point system used to select among mutually exclusive LPFM applications;

• Revision of the cross-ownership rule to permit cross-ownership of an LPFM station and FM translator stations;

• Modifications to the way the FCC processes mutually exclusive applications.

• Removal of the Intermediate Frequency protection requirements for LPFM stations operating with less than 100 watts effective radiated power; and

• An extension of the mandatory time-sharing applicable to certain NCE FM stations to the LPFM service.

Again, Riismandel at Radio Survivor:
"A suggestion that is likely to draw criticism from many LPFM advocates is one to permit the cross-ownership of an LPFM station with translator stations. This proposal seems like the Commission’s attempt to throw a bone to the large religious broadcasters who rely on large chains of translator stations to rebroadcast the programming of a main full-power station in order to create a nationwide network on the cheap. These broadcasters are likely to be unhappy with the FCC’s decision to give LPFM stations priority, and so it seems like this is an attempt to mollify them by letting them get into the LPFM game and potentially reclaim some of those “lost” frequencies.

The adoption of such a rule could have a significant effect on competition for LPFM licenses, since these noncommercial religious translators are often applied for by local groups that have no formal connections to the broadcaster that originates the signal being rebroadcast. If LPFM-translator cross-ownership were permitted, there would be a sudden influx of dozens, if not hundreds, of applicants that would otherwise be ineligible for an LPFM license. My concern would be about these groups’ intention and ability to actually produce and broadcast locally-originated programming, since translators explicitly do not air such programs. That’s why translators are attractive to these groups, making the cost and complication for owning and operating them relatively minimal for local groups. However, an LPFM with eight or more hours of local programming a day is a much more involved endeavor, that these same groups may not actually be able to maintain, if they even have a real intention to do so in the first place.

But, of course, the Commission will be accepting public comments on these proposals, and I’m certain that LPFM advocates, the broadcast industry, NPR and religious broadcasters won’t hesitate to weigh in."

A five-day window for LPFM applications is expected to be announced for September or October. See the full story in Radio Ink.
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