Last week, the FCC formally announced its receipt of a proposal from REC Networks to raise the maximum power for LPFM stations from 100 watts to 250 watts, to give them equivalent power levels with FM translator stations. REC suggests that these higher power levels are necessary to allow LPFM stations to overcome the effects of multipath in their coverage areas, and to provide sufficient building penetration in more urban areas. The proposal (which is available here) also suggests other changes to the rules that apply to LPFM stations, including those dealing with interference protections between LPFM stations and FM translators, and the rules allowing the use of the FM translators by LPFM stations. The FCC notice is only an announcement that the proposal has been received. While comments can be filed within 30 days as to whether or not the FCC should move further to consider the issues raised in the Petition, any ultimate action should require that the FCC issue a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit comments on the specific proposals that the Commission deems potentially worthy of consideration.

Nevertheless, even though this is but a request for preliminary comments, broadcasters may want to consider commenting within the 30 days provided by the Commission as to whether or not this proposal should move forward. The proposals put forward in REC’s Petition are very detailed, and it provided significant backing information in support of its requests. The 250 watt proposal has many nuances – proposing that these upgrades be allowed, at least initially, only for already authorized LPFM stations as minor changes to their existing facilities. And the proposal would not expand the “buffer zones” adopted by the Commission when it first authorized LPFM stations – establishing mileage separation requirements between LPFM and full-power FM stations designed to protect the full-power station beyond its normally protected contour. REC suggests that, in most cases, the buffer zone provides too much protection to full-power stations, and that even at 250 watts, there should still be sufficient protection to full-power stations.REC does recognize that LPFMs that are already operating with waivers of the second-adjacent channel spacing requirements would need to make showings that no new interference would be caused by an increase in power. It also suggests limiting what it calls “Foothills” LPFM stations – those that are located in areas where their coverage in certain directions is helped by terrain factors to go beyond what is normally predicted for such stations. Even though REC asserts that these proposals will be sufficient to protect full-power stations, broadcasters may nevertheless want to carefully review the proposals to see if they agree with REC that its proposals don’t pose an undue risk of interference to full-power stations.

The REC petition also seeks to allow LPFM stations more latitude to make changes in their facilities as minor changes – upping the current limits of 2 kilometers on a minor change, and also suggests eliminating the requirement that any translator that rebroadcasts an LPFM station have service contour overlap with the primary LPFM station. Also among its proposals are a suggestion that the FCC eliminate the obligation that LPFM stations protect translators on second adjacent channels, as translators currently have to protect LPFM stations only on the same channel and on first-adjacent channels.

This petition obviously seeks new benefits for LPFM stations – some of which may give full-power broadcasters, and those who operate FM translators, some pause. Some full-power broadcasters have even suggested that interference protections to full-power stations be increased, or that LPFMs be treated more like translators generally, being fully secondary to full-power stations, and being forced to cease operations whenever they cause interference, even outside the boundaries of protected contours. Comments on REC’s proposals can be filed through June 15, so consider these proposals carefully, and let the FCC know your thoughts on the ideas being put forward in this petition.