LPFM relief bill nears passage


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After several years of stalled efforts, the Senate Commerce Committee approved S.592 (the Local Community Radio Act of 2009), a bill that would repeal the LPFM third-adjacent channel protection requirement contained in Section 73.807 of the Commission's rules. The bill is now eligible for consideration by the full Senate. A corresponding House bill (H.R. 1147) cleared Committee in mid-October. As a result of these actions, congressional approval of this legislation is now likely. Assuming the White House approves, too, third-adjacent channel protections could be repealed during the first quarter of 2010.

While the Senate and House bills focus on the LPFM service, full-power FM stations should be aware of the broader impact that removal of the protections will have. Besides the possibility of more interference, the change will make it possible for the FCC to authorize many more new LPFM stations. The FCC is likely to open a filing window for such new stations during the first or second quarter of 2010.

The new law, if adopted, is part of a pattern of technical deregulation for LPFM. The Commission modified its LPFM rules in 2007 to relax considerably the extent to which LPFM stations have to protect second-adjacent channel full-service stations. That rule change was upheld in 2008 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Thus, second-adjacent protection has already been seriously weakened. The pending legislation would end third-adjacent protections — leaving full-service stations with full protection only against co- and first-adjacent channel LPFM interference, and only partial protection from second-adjacent channel LPFM stations.

While the legislation seems to be geared primarily toward the paring back of protection, it ironically would create a new species of protection which could give the Commission new enforcement headaches. The bills mandate that third-adjacent protection from LPFM interference is to be retained with respect to full-service noncommercial educational FMs “that broadcast radio reading services via a subcarrier frequency.” But this exception is based on a flawed understanding of the FCC regulatory framework. SCA operation is largely unregulated and unmonitored by the Commission. Thus, FCC currently has no way of knowing, from one day to the next, which stations happen to be using one or both SCAs for radio reading services. The agency will only know whether the extra degree of protection is warranted is if the affected FM station volunteers the information. Since providing SCA service will, under the new law, afford a full-service NCE station a greater measure of interference protection, it would not be surprising to see an upsurge in such services shortly before the LPFM filing window.

FCC rescinds ill-conceived fine

In a case that became a common cause of broadcasters over the past several months, the FCC reversed a $5,000 fine imposed on a Southern California FM station for not including an end-of-message code after transmitting an EAS test. The station voluntarily serves as the local primary station for the regional EAS network. In that capacity, the station volunteers to send emergency messages, weekly and monthly tests to other local radio stations in order to assist in emergency preparedness.

At the end of any EAS message or test it transmitts, a local primary station is required to send a signal to let downstream stations know the message is over. Following one test, station personnel forgot to send this end-of-message signal and, as a result, several stations dutifully continued broadcasting the primary station's programming. The $5,000 fine followed.

After a round of protests from NAB and others, who admonished the agency for discouraging volunteerism in the EAS community, the Commission cancelled the fine. However, the FCC still formally admonished the station and required that it prepare and submit compliance reports.


Dateline

Jan. 11 was the deadline set for filing of biennial ownership reports for all commercial broadcast licensees. This date may be changed again, however. Check www.commlawblog.com for updates.

For noncommercial radio stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and New York, the biennial ownership report deadline is Feb.1.

Feb.1 is the deadline for radio stations in New Jersey and New York to electronically file their Broadcast EEO Mid-Term Reports (Form 397) with the FCC.

Feb. 1 is the deadline for radio stations licensed in the following states to place their annual EEO Reports in their public files: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey and Oklahoma.


Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC, Arlington, Virginia. E-mail: martin@fhhlaw.com




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