Recent debate over revisions to the rules for low-power FM has included issues like power levels and parity with translators. But now the FCC is taking comments on a more dramatic proposal, an overhaul that would have even more impact on the nation’s LPFM stations.
As RW reported earlier, these changes were put forward by the Low Power FM Advocacy Group (LPFM-AG) in a July Petition for Rulemaking. The commission is taking comments, with a deadline of Aug. 30.
Among other things, LPFM-AG proposes changing the business model to allow LPFMs to play commercials, and to be owned by local small businesses, not just nonprofits; classifying LPFMs as primary stations to protect against displacement; and allowing one entity to own two LPFM stations. The proposal also asks for the creation of a set of technical rules for both FM translators and LPFMs regarding spacing and ERP.
“Fifteen years after this important public service was born, it is time to remove the fetters that prevent LPFM from being successful and start serving those it was designed to serve, the American people,” the advocacy group wrote in its request for rulemaking. “Add decades of U.S. radio history and the many lessons learned over time from the standard commercial FM and NCE-FM radio services, and we have the clearest eye ever on the best practices for American LPFM radio.” In filing its petition, the group also provided a list of LPFMs whose licenses or construction permits had been cancelled or expired since 2000.
Seven individuals had filed comments with the FCC as of Monday; those expressed support for the changes, with several citing a need to lift the noncommercial limits placed on LPFMs. “Level the playing field for us, and watch the grassroots, small business economic revivals begin,” wrote Douglas D. Kirkham, underwriting director for WXXR(LP) in Terra Haute, Ind., in a comment to the FCC supporting a move to a commercial structure for LPFMs.
Taking note of the discussion, attorney David Oxenford wrote on Broadcast Law Blog that these proposals could fundamentally change the way in which LPFMs operate. And in recent months the FCC took comments on a separate proposal from REC Networks, as we’ve reported. But it’s unknown how seriously the commission is taking either or both of the proposals. Oxenford noted that the latest action “is not a proposal by the FCC to adopt rules on these matters, but … asking for public comment as to whether the FCC should take any action.”
More comments are likely to be filed nearer the deadline, based on industry practice; full-power broadcasters, historically leery of LPFMs, are likely say that the service was never intended to provide another commercial outlet, Oxenford wrote, but was intended to allow community groups to have a voice.
Also read the RW eBook “LPFM on Fire.”