Congress Modifies LPFM Allocation Rules


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In December, Congress passed the "Local Community Radio Act" (H.R. 6533). The new law does the following with respect to low-power FM allocation standards:

  • Eliminates third-adjacent separation requirements between (1) low-power FM stations and (2) full-service FM stations, translators and boosters.

  • Prohibits the FCC from reducing existing first- and second-adjacent separations as provided in Section 73.807 of the rules.

  • Authorizes the Commission to grant waivers of second-adjacent spacings when an LPFM applicant can establish that its proposed operation will not cause interference. The use of Longley-Rice and other terrain-sensitive models is specifically allowed. In 2007, the FCC separately proposed permitting second-adjacent waivers when an LPFM is threatened with displacement by a full-power station, but that proposal is still pending in the unresolved LPFM/Cap-of-10 rule making proceeding.

  • Provides that any LPFM station operating pursuant to such a waiver must suspend operation upon notification by the FCC that it is causing interference to a full-service station, without regard to the location of the station receiving interference. The Commission is required to issue such notification upon receipt of a complaint of interference.

  • Provides that full-service FM licensees in densely populated states such as New Jersey may ask the FCC to apply the interference remediation requirements currently applicable to translators and boosters to complaints of interference from new LPFMs on third-adjacent, second-adjacent, first-adjacent and co-channels. Under the new law, it matters not whether the complaints occur inside or outside the protected contours of the interfered-with station. However, interference arising outside the relevant distance specified in Section 73.807(a)(1) (the applicable LPFM spacing rule) will not require remediation.

  • Provides that FM translator stations, FM booster stations, and low-power FM stations remain equal in status to each other, but secondary to existing and modified full-service FM stations. This presumably creates parity among applications for new and modified LPFMs and FM translators despite language in the unresolved LPFM rule making to the effect that applications for new LPFM stations submitted in the anticipated LPFM new station filing window might be given priority over pending 2003 translator applications. This new provision is undercut, however, by ambiguous language in the new law, which implies that LPFM stations and applications, which provide or propose local programming, might be preferred over translators and boosters despite the law's parity provision.

  • Provides that existing distance separations – even the repealed third-adjacent separations – will still apply to all full-service FM, FM translator and FM booster stations that provide radio reading services (RSS) by analog subcarrier. That provides a significant incentive for full-service licensees, in particular, to make room on their SCAs for RRS. Of course, the downside of this is likely to be increased reporting requirements to the Commission. Presently, licensees do not have to let the FCC know what they are transmitting on their subcarriers.

    While the Local Community Radio Act has now been passed, the new law will not be implemented until the FCC completes the necessary steps to turn the legislative language into new rules. That process will likely be subsumed within the long-pending LPFM rule making proceeding that includes the proposed Cap of 10 on 2003 translator applications. No matter what procedural avenue the FCC uses to implement the Act, more delay can be expected if the agency decides to seek public comment on the rules needed to implement the new law.


    Dateline

    The radio station license renewal cycle begins again in 2011, with the first batch of renewals due on June 1, 2011, for stations in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Stations in those states must begin their pre-filing renewal announcements on April 1, 2011.

    For noncommercial radio stations in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming their biennial ownership report deadline is April 1.

    April 1 is the deadline for radio stations licensed in the following locations to place their Annual EEO Reports in their public files and on their websites: Arizona, D.C., Idaho, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.


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




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