Congress to FCC: More Low Power FM ("LPFM") Stations, Please
Passage of the Local Community Radio Act of 2010 (“LCRA”) by the Congress authorizes the FCC to issue new licenses for thousands of LPFM radio stations across the country, providing new outlets for new voices in new areas. Specifically, the LCRA:
- Eliminates the requirement that a proposed LPFM station protect full power radio stations operating on the third adjacent channel, unless the full power station broadcasts radio reading services.
- Allows LPFM stations to operate in closer proximity to full power stations operating on the second adjacent channel. The LPFM station must cease operation if there is any complaint of the LPFM station causing interference to the full power station.
- LPFM stations will remain secondary services and must cease operation if the LPFM station causes interference to public reception of a full power radio station.
- A full power radio station may still displace a LPFM station; presumably the elimination of the third adjacent channel protection will make it easier to find a new channel for a displaced FM station.
- LPFM stations will have co-primary status with FM Translator and FM Booster Stations; meaning that a LPFM station must protect a previously authorized FM Translator or Booster Station and vice versa.
This new law is important because the FCC has been given authority to grant licenses for new LPFM stations across the country in markets previously unavailable to LPFM stations. This is expected to help further the diversity goals of the FCC and the broadcast industry. The LCRA provides clarity for full power, FM Translator, FM Booster and LPFM stations by setting in stone their interference rights vis-à-vis each other. This is a “big win” for the National Association of Broadcasters (or NAB) because it provides solace to incumbent broadcasters concerned that LPFM stations might gain priority over full power and secondary stations.
It remains uncertain when the FCC will issue a filing window for the public to submit applications for construction permits for new LPFM stations; and whether the FCC will proceed with a new filing window before or after dealing with the backlog of thousands of FM translator applications pending before the FCC since March 2003. Early resolution of the pending FM translator stations could make it possible for the FCC to grant even more LPFM stations, thereby providing additional outlets to promote diversity.