FCC Studies Impact on LPFM Service


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The February 2011 FCC Update provided an overview of the Local Community Radio Act of 2010 (LCRA), and the rule changes that the law requires the FCC to make in response. Changes to the level of protection that LPFM stations must provide to full-service FM stations and FM translators were discussed, along with ambiguous language relating to the establishment of priority of LPFM stations in relation to pending FM translator applications are awaiting resolution through a rulemaking proceeding.

The LCRA also required the FCC to conduct an economic study on the impact LPFM stations will have on full-service FM stations. Other than the general directive to the FCC that the study must be completed, no further direction was provided under LCRA as to what economic parameters should be reviewed, or how the study should look at the end of the day.

So, effectively with a blank slate, the FCC released a notice seeking input from the public on both the scope of the required study, along with information relating to the specific questions raised in the LCRA. The Commission assumes that the study would necessarily be based on prior experiences with the LPFM service, despite the fact that the LCRA's study requires the FCC to predict the impact LPFM service will have on full-service FM stations, i.e., in the future. At the same time, the Commission does take a stab at suggesting several "metrics" that should be studied and for which it seeks more information.

First, the Commission seeks information relating to the direct or indirect impact that the LPFM service will have on audience ratings for full-service FM stations. The Commission acknowledges that the service area of LPFM stations is relatively small, but questions whether LPFM stations draw audiences away from full-service FM stations in the same market. The Commission asks for before-and-after audience shares from those that would conclude that there has been an impact after the 2000 commencement of the LPFM service. Also, since more than 50 percent of the LPFM stations are outside of Arbitron-rated markets, the Commission is also seeking information on other ways to measure the audience in these markets.

Next, the Commission intends to study whether LPFM stations will economically impact full-service FM stations. While LPFM stations are noncommercial, the FCC notes that, through the underwriting and sponsorship of programs, revenue that may have previously been directed to full-service FM stations in the market may be redirected to LPFM stations. Thus, the Commission asks whether the LPFM service has had this impact since 2000, and whether there is any accurate reporting mechanism to determine the impact of more LPFM stations in radio markets.

The Commission is also looking to define the relevant markets before looking at the economic metrics. First, the Commission proposes to look only at the areas where LPFM and full-service FM stations have overlapping contours, as the Commission concludes that this is where most of the direct impact is likely to occur. Next, the Commission will look at the overall impact of LPFM stations in the respective Arbitron markets regardless of whether there are overlapping service areas.

Notably, the FCC will not be looking at the economic impact of interference caused by LPFM stations to full-service FM stations. The Commission appears to have reached the conclusion that other portions of LCRA created remediation procedures that should eliminate the economic impact of interference on full-service FM stations. The Commission will entertain comment on whether this conclusion is correct, so parties that seek to have this metric considered in the report should consider submitting comments.

Given the breadth of the Commission's call for comments, those that have information on the economic impact of LPFM stations should strongly consider filing comments. It is likely that this study will establish the blueprint for any modifications to the service in the future. Comments are due to be filed June 24, 2011, with reply comments due July 25, 2011.


Dateline

June 1, 2011: All radio stations located in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia file License Renewal application and EEO Program Report, and run License Renewal Post-Filing Announcements on June 1, June 15, July 1, July 15, Aug. 1, and Aug. 15, 2011. Non-commercial radio stations also file Biennial Ownership Report (FCC 323-E).

June 1, 2011: Radio stations located in North Carolina and South Carolina run License Renewal Pre-Filing Announcements on June 1, June 16, July 1, and July 15, 2011.

June 1, 2011: All stations in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming must place their Annual EEO Public File reports in their public files.

August 1, 2011: All radio stations located in North Carolina and South Carolina file License Renewal application and EEO Program Report, and run License Renewal Post-Filing Announcements on Aug. 1, Aug. 15, Sept. 1, Sept. 15, Oct. 1, and Oct. 15, 2011. Non-commercial radio stations also file Biennial Ownership Report (FCC 323-E).


Petro is a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC, Arlington, VA. Email: petro@fhhlaw.com.




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