FCC considers low-power AM


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The FCC is considering the establishment of a new low power AM service. The agency received a petition for rulemaking asking that it authorize such a service, and the Commission was interested enough in the proposal to issue a notice asking for public comments. Here are some of the details:

Unlike LPFM, the LPAM proponents want the new service to be commercial.

Existing broadcasters would be ineligible to apply.

Local residence, at least initially, would be required.

Power levels of up to 100W, 24 hours per day are proposed.

Interference calculations would be made under existing AM allocation rules, but with a 100W application treated as one for 1kW.

The prospects of the Commission actually approving LPAM appear to be poor, but that is what many observers said about LPFM when it was first proposed in the late 1990s.

Despite considerable opposition to the concept, the FCC created the LPFM service in January 2000. LPFM is subject to many limitations besides those on power. LPFM stations must operate non-commercially. They must be owned by an organization with ties to the community. Any organization can own, at most, only one LPFM station. LPFM stations cannot be sold.

Perhaps recognizing these realities, some of the promoters of LPFM have now returned to the Commission with LPAM — a service that would not be shackled with the restrictions that apply to LPFM.

Supporters say that low power commercial AM stations would create a middle ground between mom-and-pop local stations and the super-sized, rigorously formatted group owned outlets. Cheap commercials from businesses otherwise priced out of advertising on regular stations would support the service. LPAM supporters say the service would reinvigorate locally focused programming and encourage innovation.

The proposal would permit ownership nationwide of as many as 12 LPFM stations by one individual or entity nationwide, but owners would be permitted only one such station per market. Unlike, LPFM, LPAM stations could be bought and sold.

A difficult task

LPAM proponents are likely to have a long and difficult struggle. Existing full-service AM operators, who already face serious congestion in the AM band, will insist that the technical specifications for any LPAM service be carefully devised and closely enforced to ensure protection of their signals. (The LPAM proposal is notably short on technical details.) And most local broadcasters are expected to take exception to the notion that some local advertisers are being priced out of the radio market. While the LPAM proponents claim that that is the case, they offer no empirical evidence of a commercial niche for the new stations.

Another obstacle is that the LPAM proponents request that the new service somehow be made exempt to auction processing. The proponents want selections among mutually exclusive applicants through a point system similar to that used for NCE-FM and LPFM. But this scheme would require an amendment to the Communications Act, which now provides that all commercial spectra must be awarded through auctions.

Still, the LPAM idea has been placed on the table, which means the FCC is interested enough in the proposal to consider it further. The same type of initiatives ultimately resulted in the creation of the LPFM service. It could happen again.


Dateline

Feb. 1 is the deadline for radio stations, LPFM stations and FM translators in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississipppi to file their 2006 license renewal applications. Radio stations must file their EEO program reports and biennial ownership reports with their renewals. Feb. 1 also is the deadline for in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi to file their biennial ownership reports.

Radio stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania must begin their renewal pre-filing announcements on Feb. 1, looking forward to an April 1, 2006, renewal application filing date.

Feb. 1 is the deadline for radio stations in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Jersey and New York to place their annual EEO reports in their public files and post them on their websites.


Martin is immediate-past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, Arlington, VA. E-mail martin@fhhlaw.com.




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