Update: The draft order described in this story has now been adopted. The action was taken in advance of the FCC meeting.
Low-power FM is creating some interest in Washington this week.
We told you a few days ago about a fresh proposal to allow LPFMs to increase power to 250 watts. That item is open for public comments.
Meanwhile, at least for now, the Federal Communications Commission seems poised to approve an order in a separate matter that would “affirm” the maximum power level at 100 watts. The draft Order on Reconsideration being considered for Thursday’s meeting would affirm a maximum power of 100 watts “because the record of this proceeding is insufficient to overcome concerns about simplicity, consistency with past actions, and statutory spacing requirements.”
But it made clear in a footnote that it hasn’t precluded fresh proposals for 250 watts and noted that the latest one from REC Networks is currently open for comment. That proposal seeks to address commission concerns expressed about earlier proposals.
The order that’s up for a vote came about because in 2020 the commission modified its low-power FM engineering rules to improve reception and options for station relocation; at the time it rejected a request to allow 250 watts.
In the draft order, the agency writes that it has since considered two petitions seeking reconsideration of those technical rules.
Todd Urick of Common Frequency and Paul Bame of the Prometheus Radio Project claimed the FCC had failed to adequately explain its rejection of a power increase; they also asked the commission to eliminate the rule requiring LPFMs to use transmitters certified for that use by an outside lab, a measure intended to avoid interference problems on the FM dial. The draft order would leave that requirement unchanged.
In addition, the draft says that the FCC will require LPFM stations to submit engineering test measurements to prove that their antennas are performing properly. The commission last year approved the use of directional antennas for LPFMs. The new measurement rule only applies to LPFM applications not yet acted upon, according to the FCC.
Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel wrote in advance of Thursday’s meeting that last year’s technical order “maintained core LPFM goals of simplicity, diversity and localism” and she hopes this week’s actions “will provide clarity and finality to the rules.”
Supporters of the 250-watt proposal believe the draft order is not intended as the final word on that matter and that the FCC has not shut the door on the idea.
The draft order discusses the history of the 250-watt debate and has several other facets of interest to LPFMs and those who follow it; you can read it here.
Rosenworcel also said that the vote this week will “bring us one step closer to opening an application window for new LPFM stations.”
Legal experts will be watching the meeting for hints on the timing of that window. The FCC has indicated that it would follow on the heels of its new noncommercial FM window scheduled for November. The previous LPFM filing window was in 2013.
According to the latest FCC data, there are just over 2,100 licensed LPFM broadcast stations in the United States.