Unleashing Translators for Local Programming?

A small-town broadcast concern in Illinois has filed a petition for rulemaking with the FCC asking it to allow FM translator stations to originate local programming. The only substantive difference between a translator and an LPFM station is that the former can be up to two and a half times more powerful than the latter, though it is required to rebroadcast another source or station; LPFM stations are explicitly encouraged to be live and local.
The petition, filed by the Miller Media Group of Taylorville, IL, owner of seven full-power AM and FM stations, would allow FM translators to broadcast original programming from any point located within 25 miles of its transmitter. It notes the “thousands of FM translator stations authorized, and many more thousands of translator applications awaiting FCC action. [These] could be used for a variety of different programming but for the restrictive FM translator rules now in effect.”
To the petition are attached several letters from various civic and business leaders in and around Taylorville that support turning translators into a new class of LPFM station. The letters adhere to a boilerplate message which charges that allowing local programming on translator stations “will enhance our town and its economic growth.”
Apparently, Miller Media bought a 38-watt FM translator construction permit for $4,000 from a regional godcaster and would like to use it as a stand-alone outlet. It’s not the first time this idea has come about, and it raises some interesting implications for the possible proliferation of LPFM-style radio, though it’s bound to be politically controversial. Incumbent full-power broadcasters would hate to be faced with a potential crop of new competition to undermine their existing market share. Perhaps that’s why the FCC’s filed the Miller petition in its cyber circular-file for now.