The FCC has asked for comments on a rulemaking proposal that would fundamentally change the way in which LPFM stations operate – proposing that they be allowed to take commercial messages (as opposed to the current limit the they operate noncommercially, only taking underwriting announcements and other noncommercial sponsorships), allowing them to be owned by local small businesses (as opposed to the current rule that limit their ownership to nonprofit organizations), and giving them primary status (protecting them against being displaced by a subsequent move of a full-power station or the initiation of service by a new full-power FM station). The proposal also asks that the limits on ownership, which currently limit most nonprofit groups to ownership of a single LPFM, be lifted. There is also a suggestion that LPFM stations be governed by the same spacing rules that apply to FM translators, letting them locate wherever there is no predicted interference, not limiting them to locations where they meet mileage separation requirements set out by the current rules. This is a new proposal, going beyond the proposal we wrote about here to allow LPFM stations to increase power to 250 watts, on which the FCC recently took comments.

Comments on this proposal are due on August 30. The proposal is not a proposal by the FCC to adopt rules on these matters, but instead just a preliminary notice that the petition asking for these changes to the rules was filed, and asking for public comment as to whether the FCC should take any action and further pursue the proposals being made. Obviously, some broadcasters may want to comment on this proposal which would fundamentally change the nature of the LPFM service.
Continue Reading Proposal Asks that Low Power FM Stations Be Given Primary Status, and Allowed to Operate Commercially

When the Low Power FM service was first authorized, it was as a "secondary service," though a recent court decision shows how that secondary status is becoming less and less a reality.  A secondary service is traditionally one that can be allotted where there are no other uses for a particular frequency, and which is subject to being bumped off the spectrum should there be another demand for that spectrum by a "primary" user.  LPFM stations were originally supposed to provide service to areas between full-power FM radio stations, and to be bumped off the air if there was a new FM station authorized or a change in the frequency or power of an existing station.  A decision of the Court of Appeals released earlier this month , upholding an FCC order giving more protections to LPFM stations, puts this secondary service into question.

The Court decision upheld the Commission’s decision, about which we wrote here, determining that waivers of second adjacent channel interference limitations between LPFM and full power stations should be permitted to help preserve LPFM service.  In addition, the Court upheld the FCC’s process in adopting a new "interim" policy which provides that, where an LPFM is providing 8 hours a day of local programming and would be knocked off the air by an upgrade or city of license change of a full-power station, the LPFM station could apply for a waiver of its secondary status, and there would be a rebuttable presumption in favor of such a waiver.  If the waiver is granted, the LPFM station would be preserved, and the application of the full-power station dismissed.  Thus, effectively, LPFM would no longer be secondary, but instead will have assumed a primary, protected status.


Continue Reading LPFM – When a Secondary Service Becomes Primary

[Correction 1/24/2008- we have published a correction to this entry, here, noting that the Federal Register publication described below contained only half of the FCC’s order in its LPFM proceeding, omitting the portion seeking public comment.  That section of the order will apparently be published in the Federal Register at a later date – so the February 19 comment date set out below is incorrect.  Everyone has more time to prepare their comments.  The actual filing date will be set in the future.]

The FCC Order establishing new rules for Low Power FM (LPFM) Stations was published in the Federal Register on January 17.  This sets the date of February 19 for the filing of comments on the question of the relationship between LPFM stations and both FM translators and full-power FM stations.  These comments will address two issues, (1) whether LPFM stations should remain secondary stations, subject to being knocked off the air by new full-power FM stations and (2) whether LPFM stations should get some sort of priority over some or all FM translator stations.

LPFM stations have been "secondary" stations, meaning that they could be knocked off the air when a new FM station came on the air, or when improvements to the facilities of an existing FM station were constructed, if the new full-power FM facilities would be caused interference from the existing LPFM station.  As we wrote here, at its November meeting, the FCC decided that it needed more information to determine whether LPFM stations should continue to be secondary to new or improved FM stations.   While not reaching a final determination on that issue, the FCC adopted temporary processing policies which essentially force the full-power stations to deal with LPFM operators in cases where such interference arises – potentially blocking improvements in the facilities of a number of FM stations. 


Continue Reading Comment Date on the Relationship of Low Power FM Stations to FM Full Power Stations and Translators Set

The FCC today adopted a Report on its Localism proceeding, accessing the evidence that it gathered in its three year long investigation of whether broadcasters were adequately serving the interests of their local communities.  We wrote long ago about some of the specific issues that the FCC was reviewing in this proceeding – everything from the public interest programming of broadcasters to their music selection process to their response to local emergencies.  Among the report’s conclusions were findings that not all broadcasters were adequately assessing the needs of their communities or serving the public interest through coverage of local news and other local events.  Because of these perceived weaknesses in broadcaster performance, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, much as we expected in our post here, tentatively concluding that re-regulation of the broadcast industry was necessary, bringing back some form of ascertainment and some specific quantifiable requirements for public interest programming

As in the case of the Multiple Ownership order adopted today (summarized here), the full text of the FCC Report and the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has not been released.  Instead, only a short Public Notice, and the statements of the Commissioners at the meeting, are available to determine what was done.  From these notices, it appears that three tentative conclusions were reached.  They are, as follows:

  • More Low Power TV stations should be able to get Class A status, meaning that they are no longer a secondary service that can be "bumped" by a new full power television station or by changes to the facilities of a full-power station
  • Each licensee should be required to establish a community advisory board made up of specific groups of community leaders, with whom the station would meet on a regular basis to assess the needs of the community
  • The FCC’s license renewal standards should contain specific quantitative requirements for public service programming

While these may sound like noble decisions, there are many details and much history that the Commission needs to address before these proposals become final FCC rules.


Continue Reading FCC Adopts Localism Report and Starts Rulemaking to Consider Adopting New Public Interest Obligations for Broadcasters