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LPFM Technical Changes May Be Coming

FCC chairman signals “reforms” ahead for the low-power radio service

LPFM advocates, take note. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says he has heard your arguments that “the service has matured” after nearly two decades on the air and that LPFM now “requires additional engineering options to improve reception.” 

A new FCC notice of proposed rulemaking, he said, is intended to help while also meeting his goals of modernizing and streamlining media regulations.

He previewed the proposals in a July 10 blog post, when the chairman laid out the commission’s August meeting agenda. Subsequently, the commission’s Media Bureau opened MB Docket No. 19-193, “Amendments of Parts 73 and 74 to Improve the LPFM Radio Service Technical Rules” and released Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – MB Docket Nos. 19-193, 17-105, responding to a REC Networks petition of June 2018 and seeking comment on its own proposals.

Pai’s blog clarified his intentions: “I’m proposing reforms such as allowing expanded LPFM use of directional antennas and permitting LPFM use of FM booster stations. This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking includes additional changes to increase flexibility while maintaining interference protection and the core LPFM values of diversity and localism.”

According to the NPRM, it would also remove the requirement for LPFMs and other radio broadcasters to  protect television stations operating on TV Channel 6 after July 13, 2021, when LPTV stations are scheduled to transition to digital. Also, because there are few stations currently affected by these protective measures, the commission proposes to enact a waiver process for stations that would like to make related changes prior to the final transition deadline.

[REC Networks: LPFM Is Not a Threat to Full-Power Radio]

The NPRM also proposes a new definition for LPFM minor changes to include changes that involve overlapping 60 dBu contours of the station’s own existing and proposed facilities, in addition to the current rules that define it as a move that does not exceed 5.6 km.

Although there is currently a waiver option available, the NPRM would also propose to allow LPFM stations to retransmit LPFM signals over FM booster stations without a waiver.

The NPRM also takes the opportunity to otherwise clean up language and update information in Parts 73 and 74 covering interference issues.

However, the commission says it will not discuss issues previously raised in the February 2019 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Comparative Standards proceeding, which included non-technical matters concerning LPFM stations raised by REC Networks (and also mentioned in this petition).

Read the full NPRM online here.