Congress Supports LPFM, But Will It Move The FCC?

In a highly-symbolic yet positive move last week, all five Federal Communications Commissioners told a House oversight hearing on FCC policies whether or not they support the creation of new low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations. The answer was unanimous: “yes, we will.”
So, all that now needs to happen is for Congress to pass the long-languishing Local Community Radio Act (80 cosponsors in the House, and seven in the Senate at last count), and new LPFM stations will bloom like flowers in springtime, right?
Not quite: as I wrote about six months ago, getting Congress to remove artificial technical hamstrings on the service is just the first step toward a real, bona-fide expansion of the LPFM service. The FCC has a lot on its plate, FM broadcast spectrum has been gobbled up in the meantime, and Chairman Julius Genakowski seems much more focused on broadband issues than “plain old media” stuff.
In this case especially, the devil’s in the crumbs. When the FCC approved an LPFM service nearly 10 years ago, it proposed two classifications – LP-100 (stations maxed at 100 watts of power) and LP-10 (stations maxed at 10 watts of power).
Were the FCC to change the parameters of the LPFM service to give it more parity with its neighbors on the dial, the major growth in the LPFM service would not come from new LP-100 stations, but rather from those in the LP-10 category. These are much more likely to fit into urbanized areas, but are classified as a lower-priority station when compared even to LP-100 operations.
Unfortunately, the FCC has never issued an LP-10 license yet (much less opened a window to apply for one), and flowery rhetoric aside there appears no plans to do so anytime soon.