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FCC Eyes 2012 LPFM Window

Taking first steps to broaden the service, it also seeks comment on ways to resume FM translator processing

The FCC has taken initial steps to implement the Local Community Radio Act and eventually license more low-power FMs as well as reach a compromise on the question of which has spectrum priority, LPFMs or FM translators.

It hopes to open an application window for new LPFMs by summer of 2012. It also plans to drop the planned cap on translators that one organization can have. It is taking public comments on these goals.

In a third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking voted on today by the commissioners, the FCC seeks comment on a proposed processing policy for thousands of pending Auction 83 FM translator applications.

During the meeting, commissioners said a market-based approach would enable the agency to lift the freeze on the processing of FM translator applications and allow new applications to be filed in rural markets where spectrum is ample.

How to solve the issue of LPFMs vs. translators in large markets remains a question, one the agency seeks solutions to in its NPRM.

In 2007, the commission issued a freeze on new FM translator applications because it decided that processing approximately pending 6,500 FM translator applications would prevent development of the LPFM service. The agency then placed a cap on translators one entity could hold.

Now the FCC says the cap won’t really preserve spectrum for LPFMs in the largest markets and has proposed dropping that approach in favor of a translator processing policy based on the availability of spectrum for LPFMs in specific markets.

“In smaller markets, where’s there’s ample spectrum, we can proceed forward with pending translator licenses. But in large markets, we cannot,” said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. “We have some tough decisions coming, such as how to handle previously filed FM translator applications.”

The agency also asks for comment on ways to prevent trafficking on FM translator construction permits and whether to expand opportunities for AM stations to re-broadcast their signals on FM translators.

— Leslie Stimson