Low Power FM is back in the news this week. As we noted a week ago in our summary of FCC regulatory actions, a Petition for Rulemaking has been filed by REC Networks asking that the maximum authorized power for LPFM stations be raised from 100 to 250 watts. The hope among LPFM advocates is that an increase in power will allow such stations to increase service in their communities. REC asks that this proposal be adopted based entirely on mileage separation rules (i.e., how far these stations would have to be spaced from other stations operating on the same or an adjacent channel), even while recognizing that, in some cases, the mileage separations could create interference to existing FM stations or FM translators. This is just an initial proposal asking the FCC to start a rulemaking to further consider this power increase. Comments on this proposal are due June 21, 2021.
In addition, in an article published last week, Acting FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel set out the items to be considered on the agenda for the FCC’s June monthly open meeting. One of the items to be considered is a review of two petitions for reconsideration of the FCC’s 2020 Order which changed some of the technical rules for LPFM stations (see our article here). In announcing this draft reconsideration action, the Chairwoman stated that the resolution of these technical issues would bring the FCC one step closer to opening a window for the filing of applications for new LPFM stations. The last such window was in 2013. While no dates have been provided, in previous announcements, the FCC has indicated that this window would follow the noncommercial FM window that is scheduled for November of this year.
The issues on reconsideration are, for the most part, quite specific. One party argued that the 250-watt power limit for LPFM should have been adopted in last year’s order, which the FCC had rejected for a number of reasons (leading to the re-filing of that request by REC in a manner that tries to address some of the FCC’s concerns). Questions as to the type-acceptance requirement for LPFM equipment, the need for a proof of performance for directional antennae for LPFM stations, and the applicability of the new rules for minor changes in LPFM stations to already-dismissed applications are all part of the reconsideration petitions. In its draft of the reconsideration order to be considered by the FCC at its June meeting, the FCC would reject all of these reconsideration requests.
No doubt, there will be comments on the REC proposal to increase LPFM power, and parties interested in LPFM opportunities will be watching developments at the FCC meeting next month for more hints on the timing of the next LPFM window.