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Common Frequency: LPFM Is ‘Open for Business’

Advocacy group sees ‘a huge expansion of communication rights’

Interest groups have been busy assessing what they got or didn’t get out of the FCC’s recent ruling on low-power FM.

Common Frequency now checks in. The nonprofit group believes “every town should have a common frequency on which peoples’ voices can be broadcast and heard.” It plans to offer LPFM consulting services for the expected wave of applicants for next fall’s filing window.

Assessing the FCC action, it wrote: “Advocates like Common Frequency, Prometheus Radio Project, REC Networks and many others filed dozens of comments determined to maintain a level playing field for the new radio service. … So what did we win and what did we lose?”

The group believes the outcome of years of LPFM debate represents “a lifting of the barriers of entry into noncommercial broadcasting that have resulted in media ownership diversity statistics hitting record lows.” And it sees this action as “a liberation of the public airwaves and a huge expansion of communication rights.”

Regarding the competing interests of translators, Common Frequency believes “rampant speculative sales and a dysfunctional translator marketplace convinced the commission the public interest demanded corrective action and changes to the existing rules.”

LPFM advocates had worried that if the backlog of translator applications were processed first-come, first-served, there would be little space for new channels. Common Frequency credits itself, Prometheus and REC Networks with developing “new protocols to give new LPFM stations a fighting chance, maintain fairness for genuine translator applications and crack down on speculative sales and frequency monopolization by just a few.” It said the final rules — a national cap of 70 translator applications for any applicant and a three-per-market application cap in the 150 top markets — were “largely crafted” by these advocate groups.

It also believes new rules for channel spacing and interference are “a large victory for low-power advocates and allow the new broadcasting service freedom from onerous standards and frivolous interference complaints.”

It cited “significant victories” in the handling of interference issues. These include routine processing of second adjacent waivers on request; the ability to use directional antennas to avoid existing broadcast signals; the ability to transmit at lower ERPs to mitigate interference; and the ability to transmit at different rates of polarization for the same reason.

The group noted that the rules take steps to “prevent the making of mini-media empires with a low-power permit and a bunch of translators,” and establish a points system to decide who gets a signal if there are multiple qualified applicants — rewarding applicants “for values that uphold commission goals for localism and diversity in media.” These involve factors like having an established local community presence; providing at least eight hours a day of local origination; and providing a main studio in the signal area for 20 or more hours a week.

But Common Frequency expressed disappointment at failure to obtain licensing for peripheral services at different wattages. “At various points, service at 10 watts, 50 watts and 250 watts had been proposed as supplements to the 100 watt low-power service to meet particular needs. In the case of LP250, it was hoped the service would provide greater coverage for low-power stations in rural and remote areas with low population density and remove the need to look for local translators to achieve greater reach. In dense cities, LP10 and LP50 would have added more available frequencies in a crowded band.”

Read its full statement here.

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