FCC Outlines LPFM Expansion

On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission announced further rules designed to expand the LPFM radio service. This is likely to be the last significant opportunity for budding community broadcasters to obtain an LPFM license. Radio Survivor’s Paul Riismandel has an overview of the FCC’s action, while REC Networks Michi Eyre has written a thorough synopsis of its nuts and bolts.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway is the FCC’s proposed handling of a flood of applications for FM translators. More than 6,000 applications for translators are pending from a 2003 filing window (when more than 13,000 applications were tendered). This run on translators has already scarfed up lots of FM spectrum that could have gone toward an LPFM expansion.
The FCC’s decided to dismiss the majority of these applications, and will cap the number it will process from individual translator-mongers at 50. This is up from a proposed cap of 10 translator applications, and still represents a huge spectrum-grab. However, the FCC says it’ll take care to make sure that open channels are preserved for LPFM in qualified major markets.
In making this decision, the agency issued a circumspect denouncement of the practice of translator-mongering: “While we recognize that high-volume filers did not violate our rules, these types of speculative filings are fundamentally at odds with core Commission broadcast licensing policies and contrary to the public interest.”
In addition, the FCC’s proposing to create a 250-watt LPFM station class, designed to provide a larger coverage area in markets where such a power increase may be feasible. Were this to pass, LFPM stations would at least have parity with translators in terms of power, though LPFM stations still generally lack the flexibility afforded translators with regard to how close they may be sited on the dial to other stations.
Perhaps the most troublesome aspect of the ruling is a proposal to do away with the 10-watt LPFM station class. Although these stations have been part and parcel of the FCC’s LPFM rules for more than a decade, the agency has never actually opened a filing window for them. Now it may never do so.
At the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters in Nashville last month, FCC Audio Division Chief Peter Doyle hinted that this was in the works. “LPFM groups are not satisfied with 100 watts, they want 250, not 10 watts,” remarked Doyle to a question about the likelihood of LP-10 stations becoming a reality.
It would be too bad if LP-10 stations never made it on the air. Granted, their potential coverage areas are relatively miniscule, but in den sly-populated areas they would still have the potential to reach a sizeable number of listeners. There’s also the probability that an LP-10 station might be licensed in some areas (especially the largest markets) where 100 or 250-watt stations either simply can’t fit or are relegated to the suburbs.
The FCC is soliciting comment on the demise of the LP-10, as well as on a plethora of policy details related to the forthcoming LPFM expansion. Once it clears the translator backlog, the road will be open for filing windows from new stations.
The earliest this might happen would be September or October, and with thousands of LPFM license applications expected, the FCC will probably revive the process it used in 2000-2001, splitting the country into segments and opening a filing window for each segment. If the process works like it did in the first go-round, that means it’ll take about a year for the application-process to run its course.