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Could Former Pirates Own LPFMs?

One version of the proposed Local Community Radio Act says 'yes'

Might former operators of unlicensed stations eventually be allowed to own low-power FMs? Possibly.

I was surprised to learn that the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee inserted such language into the latest version of S. 592, a bill to eliminate third-adjacent channel protections in order to fit more low-power stations on the FM band.

The newest version of the Senate measure, if passed, directs the FCC to strike from current LPFM rules the ban against former pirates being awarded LPFM licenses.

While we’ll see how this all “shakes out in the final wash,” I’m wondering what the intent behind this was.

Remember when the Bill Kennard FCC passed the rules creating the LPFM service? At the press briefing after that open meeting, I asked about “unlicensed operators” obtaining a license. The reply was that the commission thought it would be okay, provided the person was otherwise qualified; and possibly a former pirate could go through a “rehabilation program” to learn about responsible ownership.

I almost fell off my chair I laughed so hard, because I thought that was far-fetched. Broadcasters weren’t laughing, though. They pointed out that they have to meet certain qualifications to obtain a license and so too, should potential LPFM owners.

That got changed by the time the final rule text was out in the open; the final FCC rules forbade those who’d participated in the unlicensed operation of a station from getting an LPFM license.

To me, the fact that language reversing this ban has even made its way into one version of the latest LPFM bill says something about the level to which some pro-LPFM groups have the ears of lawmakers.

Low-power advocates in the last 10 years have learned to work within the system to push for what they want — as opposed to the early days when they were more likely to be found marching “commissioner puppets” down the street in front of the agency. I also wonder what the effect something like this might have on commission efforts to go after pirates, and how the broadcast lobby will respond to the possibility that Congress might allow people who once flaunted FCC rules to win LPFM licenses.

Let me know what you think at [email protected].