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Do LPFMs Harm Commercial FMs?

FCC looks at their economic impact on other broadcasters

The FCC is asking for public comment on the economic impact of LPFM on full-power FMs.

This is part of its followup to the Local Community Radio Act, signed in January. The bill, among other things, instructed the commission to drop third-adjacent channel protection for full-service FMs, FM translators and FM boosters in order to fit more low-power stations onto the band.

The agency is still determining the scope of its study and wants comments on changes in audience ratings and advertising revenues for full-service FMs that can be attributed to the existence of LPFMs. The FCC asks how these factors can be evaluated — which may be a challenge, since about 54% of LPFMs are not in Arbitron Radio Metros.

Other questions the FCC is asking: To what extent do LPFMs compete with full-service commercial stations for listeners? If there are any changes in ratings, how would the commission figure out to what extent the changes are caused by LPFMs eating into commercial FM audiences rather than to economic conditions?

LPFMs cannot air ads; they must air underwriting announcements. Nevertheless, Congress charged the commission with figuring out whether LPFMs “siphon” ad dollars from full-service FMs. So the agency is asking for comment on the primary funding sources for LPFMs and what percentage of their income comes from underwriting announcements. Has the level of underwriting increased substantially among LPFM stations since the service was authorized in 2000?

The commission says that when it eventually sets out to gauge economic impact on a given FM station, it will include LPFMs whose signal contours overlap the full-power station as well as any LPFMs within the same Arbitron Radio Metro. But it asks for advice on the latter, recognizing that many LPFMs are outside rated markets.

The FCC doesn’t intend to cover potential interference issues in its report — saying that Congress included interference resolution measures in the LCRA bill — but it wants to be sure, so it asks for comments on whether it needs to analyze interference issues.

Comments to MB Docket 11-83 are due June 24. The FCC must give Congress a report on its findings by Jan. 4 of next year.

— Leslie Stimson