Last Thursday, the possibility of more Low Power FM (LPFM) stations came a step closer, as a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill (the text of which is here) which would remove existing Congressional restrictions on the FCC adopting rules to ignore potential interference from new LPFM stations to full power FMs operating on third-adjacent channels. With this committee approval coming at the same time as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval of a bill that would authorize a sound recording performance royalty on radio broadcasters’ over-the-air programming, this was not a good day legislatively for traditional broadcasters. But it certainly could have been worse, as the LPFM bill does contain new provisions that would serve to extend some protection to existing broadcasters from interference from new LPFM stations. Perhaps because of these new protections, the committee action was unanimous.
The new protections built into the bill include the following:
- Protection for third-adjacent channel full-power FM stations providing reading services for the blind
- Providing protection for FM translator input signals from interference from new LPFM stations
- For a year after a new LPFM goes on the air, it must broadcast notices that any listener who experiences interference to another FM station or FM translator from this new LPFM should report that interference to the LPFM station. In the event that interference is reported:
- The LPFM must notify the FCC and the third-adjacent channel station that is getting interference
- The LPFM station must address the interference that arises
- The FCC is charged with looking for ways to assist the LPFM in remediating interference, including allowing co-location of the LPFM at the same tower site as the FM station or FM translator to which interference is being caused
- The FCC will investigate allegations of interference from an FM broadcaster or FM translator, no matter how far that interference is from the station, and even if the interference is to mobile reception
The bill does not say, however, what happens if the interference is not remediated. Under current FCC rules for the FM translator service, a new translator must sign off if interference to existing stations cannot be resolved. The bill does not specify that remedy for LPFM. This issue remains to be resolved if the bill eventually passes Congress.
The bill also provides that the FCC "when licensing FM translators and low-power FM stations" shall ensure that licenses shall be available to both translators and LPFM stations, but that such decisions shall be made based on the "needs of the local community." The FCC is already struggling with the proper balance between FM translators and LPFM stations. As we’ve written before, the FCC has been trying to decide what to do with the number of FM translators that were filed in the last translator window. And, now that FM translators for AM stations have been authorized, there is even more demand for the use of such translators, which LPFM advocates contend limit their ability to establish new changes. Plus, plans have been offered to use parts of TV Channel 6 for use by LPFM stations to lessen their conflict with translators, but thus far the FCC has not moved on these proposals.
Given the findings in the bill about the local benefits of LPFM, one wonders if Congress is trying to stack the deck in favor of LPFM in this analysis that the FCC is supposed to conduct. FM translators need to be aware of this threat, and lobby Congress and the FCC to make sure that their opportunities are preserved, as well as those of LPFM stations.