Monday, December 20, 2010

Congress proposes relaxing LPFM restrictions

H.R. 6533, the “Local Community Radio Act of 2010”, has passed both Houses of Congress and has been sent to President Obama for his signature. Since it is highly unlikely Obama will veto the bill, it will be law by the time you read this.

When the LPFM service was created, the FCC initially proposed to allow low-power stations on the 2nd-adjacent (separated by 0.4MHz) and 3rd-adjacent (separated by 0.6MHz) channels to local full-power stations. After considerable lobbying by the National Association of Broadcasters, the FCC dropped 2nd-adjacent channels, but they refused to change their mind on 3rd-adjacents.

After further lobbying, Congress did it for them – passing, in 2001, a law requiring the FCC to place 3rd-adjacent channels off limits. As you might guess, this restriction greatly limited the number of possible LPFM stations. H.R. 6533's primary purpose is to undo the 2001 Act.

Going over the bill point-by-point: (and remembering that I'm a TV engineer, not a lawyer!)

Section 1: simply establishes the “Local Community Radio Act of 2010” name, so people don't have to call it “HR6533”.

Section 2: Repeals the restriction on 3rd-adjacent channels.

Section 3: Orders the FCC to eliminate minimum distance separation requirements for 3rd-adjacent LPFMs. (Section 2 repeals the requirement that the FCC must create these restrictions, but allows the FCC to choose to keep the restrictions. Section 3 orders the FCC to not keep the restrictions.)

Section 3 also prohibits the FCC from further reducing the separation requirements for 1st and 2nd-adjacent operation. However.. it allows the Commission to waive 2nd-adjacent restrictions if applicants use terrain-sensitive methods (Longley-Rice) to establish no interference will result. Stations that receive such a waiver must suspend operation immediately if the FCC notifies them of an interference complaint.

Section 4: Prohibits the FCC from relaxing distance separations from stations (including FM translators) which broadcast a radio reading service on an analog subcarrier. In practice, few markets have more than one such station, and they're generally in the non-commercial band where there are few LPFMs.

Section 5: Requires that LPFMs, FM translators, and FM booster stations remain equal in status. In other words, a new LPFM cannot bump an existing translator – and a new translator cannot bump an existing LPFM. The Commission is also required to maintain all three of these services as secondary to full-power stations.

Section 6: Requires the FCC to address the potential for LPFM interference to 3rd-adjacent signals at the input of FM translators.

Section 7: For 3rd-adjacent operations.. LPFM stations are required to provide the same interference protection to full-power stations that FM translators are required to provide. LPFMs authorized on 3rd adjacents must, for their first year of operation, periodically broadcast announcements inviting listeners receiving interference to full-power stations to report such interference. LPFMs must relay any such complaints to the FCC and any affected full-power stations within 48 hours and must cooperate in addressing such interference.

LPFMs on 3rd adjacents “...shall be required...” to address interference complaints within the protected contour of the full-power station, and “...shall be encouraged...” to address all other interference complaints.

In certain circumstances*, 1st, 2nd, 3rd-adjacent, and co-channel LPFMs must protect full-power stations from interference outside those stations' protected contours, to the same extent that FM translators must do so. Protection is not required in areas far enough from the full-power station that a LPFM could be authorized there on the same frequency.

*”Certain circumstances” means the full-power station is licensed to a community in New Jersey. The Act doesn't put it that way – it says “...significantly populated States with more than 3,000,000 population and a population density greater than 1,000 people per one square mile land area,...” New Jersey and Rhode Island are the only states with more than 1,000 people per square mile, and Rhode Island has only a few more than 1,000,000 residents.

The FCC is required to accept complaints at any distance from a 3rd-adjacent station, and to accept complaints of interference to mobile reception. It doesn't say what the Commission must do with such complaints...

Section 8: Requires the FCC to conduct study on the economic impact of LPFM on full-power commercial FM radio. (in my humble opinion the cost of the study will exceed LPFM's economic impact on commercial FM radio...) The Act does not require any action be taken on the basis of this study.

What does it mean?

LPFM interests would have liked to see more. They'd rather not have to battle with thousands of out-of-state translators for channels; they'd like to have hard-and-fast distance separation requirements beyond which, interference complaints would not be accepted.

But with the NAB so bent out of shape over LPFM, I think you can reasonably assume H.R. 6533 was the best bill LPFM interests would get.

I think the FCC will first address LPFMs that may currently be silent after losing their frequencies to new/modified full-power stations. Some of these stations may be approaching the one-year silence deadline, after which their licenses will be canceled.

Next, I think the FCC will address stations that are operating, but on less-than-optimum frequencies. The LPFM here in Nashville is currently operating under waiver on 2nd-adjacent frequency 107.1. The operation is legal but the LPFM suffers considerable interference from WUHU-107.1 in Kentucky. 103.9 and 94.9 are much clearer frequencies here. I suspect the LPFM will file for one of these frequencies, and I believe the FCC will consider such applications before they consider any for completely new LPFM stations.

Only then will the Commission consider applications for completely new LPFMs.

1 comment:

Doug Smith said...

This bill has passed. And, as expected, it has been signed by President Obama.