Determining how much interference to full-power FM stations is acceptable from LPFM stations is perhaps, in the long run, one of the most important issues discussed in the FCC’s two orders released two weeks ago clarifying the rules for LPFM stations. The FCC’s proposals on this issue, and several others, has now been published in the Federal Register, asking for public comments by May 7, with reply comments due May 21. As we detailed when we wrote about the proposals that have now been published in the Federal Register, while the FCC did away with strict mileage limitations on third-adjacent channel spacings between LPFM stations and full-power FMs as required by the Local Community Radio Act ("LCRA"), it did not totally eliminate all interference requirements. Instead, it proposed a two-tier system requiring more remediation efforts by LPFMs that operate at less than what had been the required spacings, and lesser interference for stations that did observe the old mileage separations. The May 7 comment deadline also applies to comments on the FCC’s proposals for second-adjacent channel waivers of the required spacings between LPFMs and full-power FM stations, and on changes to the service rules for LPFMs – including allowing them to operate at powers as high as 250 watts ERP in rural areas.
The ruling eliminating the third-adjacent channel spacing rule as required by the LCRA was published in the Federal Register yesterday, meaning that the rule becomes effective on June 4, but practically that should mean little until the FCC addresses the interference-complaint resolution issues addressed in the Further NPRM. The abolition of the third adjacent channel spacing rules did leave in place one limitation, that LPFM stations cannot cause more interference than they can under present rules for stations that offer reading services for the blind.
The Further NPRM also addresses second adjacent channel interference, proposing very strict rules that require an LPFM to cease operations if it creates any interference to a regularly used FM signal – even outside of the full-power station’s protected service contours. This is essentially the FM translator interference requirement – which has, in the past, caused many translators to cease operations or change their technical facilities to protect full-power stations. Further details on this proposal are available in our summary of the order. That summary, however, did not address the proposed changes in the LPFM service rules, which we address below.