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Can FCC Open LPFM Window by Summer 2012?

Media Bureau chief is hopeful

The FCC is reviewing public comments in the LPFM/FM translator proceeding — the one in which the agency proposed a tiered, market-based approach to determine how many more LPFMs and FM translators can fit in top markets.

As we’ve reported, the agency granted an extension of the reply comment deadline, to next Tuesday, the 27th.

FCC Media Bureau Chief Peter Doyle said during a regulatory session at the Radio Show last week that, judging by initial comments that have rolled in, there appears to be broad support for the concept overall, “though there are differences of opinion over how we license LP opportunities or settlement procedures.”

“Bottom line I think we’re in reach of a solution that will have broad support,” said Doyle.

Fletcher Heald & Hildreth attorney Howard Weiss, also on the panel, has a client who’s “given up” trying to get an FM translator approved.

“If you’re in a major market, you’re locked out,” he said, referring to part of the FCC’s proposal which calls for dismissing pending FM translator applications in markets where there’s no available spectrum for LPFMs. The proposal does help broadcasters in small markets, he said.

Congress, Doyle said, has given the commission “certain principles to balance competing demands” and flexible settlements are proposed in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Nevertheless, he said the agency is sympathetic to critics of its proposed approach “and will do our best” on the issue.

Clear Channel Communications SVP Government Affairs Jessica Marventano suggested the agency’s use of a city center grid in its proposal might not be as useful as Arbitron Radio Metros in determining a radio market.

The panelist agreed with Weiss that there is tension between broadcasters located in large vs. small markets on the issue. Translator applicants, who’ve had their paperwork on file since 2003, “have been waiting a long time,” said Marventano. “They have a lot of value. They can help stations economically and just because someone is an LPFM doesn’t mean they’re superior to a full-power station.”

Asked by an attorney in the audience whether the FCC can really open a filing window for LPFM applications by its stated goal of summer 2012, given the commission’s focus on broadband issues, Doyle said the timing “is up to the commissioners” but he’s excited about the opportunity to solve the problem.

“Part of what I wanted to do in the NPRM in July was to keep up the pressure on all parties to move forward.” Doyle does believe it’s possible to keep to the summer 2012 goal to open the LPFM window. If so, “it means we will have initiated additional translator licenses before that time,” he said.