priority between FM translators and LPFM stations

The FCC’s new rules setting out a procedure to resolve complaints of interference from FM translators to full power stations will become effective on August 13. Initially, as we noted in our list of August regulatory dates for broadcasters, only the new policy allowing translators that cause interference to move to any available

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.
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August 29 will be the deadline for initial comments on the FCC’s proceeding to set the relationship between applications for new LPFM stations and those for FM translators, a date set forth in a Federal Register publication of the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on this topic.  We wrote about the FCC’s NPRM here.  But

The Local Community Radio Act has been pending in Congress, ready to be approved for many months, but held up by the Senate.  This weekend, as the Congressional term was drawing to a close, both the House and the Senate approved a bill modifying the interference standards for Low Power FM radio stations, opening the possibility that more channels will be available for LPFM use when the next window for filing new LPFM applications opens. However, this bill is substantially modified from the LPFM bill that was just passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year (see our summary of the House version of the bill). The NAB has been working with the LPFM advocates to adopt a bill with substantially more protections for full-power stations, while still allowing LPFMs to locate on channels third adjacent to full power stations. The bill passed by Congress and soon to be signed by the President makes substantial changes to the original House version, and seemingly provides many such protections. Specifically, the final legislation is different from the old bill in many ways including:

  • It does away with all the introductory language in the original House bill that contained many Congressional findings about the value of LPFM stations, language that could have been used to justify FCC actions in the future that would be unfavorable to the interests of full-power stations. 
  • It specifically forbids the FCC from amending the distance requirements between LPFM and full-power stations for first and second adjacent channel operations.  It does allow for waivers of these separations, but requires LPFMs to cease operations if complaints of interference to a full-power station are received.
  • It makes clear that LPFM stations are secondary to full power stations, both as they currently exist and as they may be modified in the future. 
  • The law specifically requires that the FCC treat LPFM and FM translators and FM boosters as being equal in status, and secondary to full-power stations (both existing and modified full-power stations) – thus seemingly ending some of the LPFM proposals that would allow LPFM stations to preempt existing FM translators.
  • For LPFMs that are located at less than the full distance from a full-power station set out by the LPFM rules, even on a third adjacent channel, the LPFM must provide the same protections that translators give to other stations under Section 74.1203, which includes the requirement that a new secondary station (like a translator or LPFM) cease operations if it interferes with the reception of any regularly used FM signal (even if the signal is outside of the existing station’s primary service contour)
  • The bill adds a provision to protect stations in certain densely populated states (principally if not exclusively New Jersey) by imposing the translator interference rules on LPFM stations (seemingly the same provision as provided for stations in other states when the LPFM is operated at less than the current spacings. 

This bill does contain some provisions that are not entirely clear, and in some cases, provisions that seem a bit contradictory. These issues will no doubt be sorted out by the FCC, and potentially by Congress itself, in the future. 


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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.


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