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Prometheus Lobbies FCC on LPFM

Advocacy group urges agency to allow second-adjacent frequency waivers, require local program origination, tighten definition of 'local'

The FCC is still wrestling with the dual demands of spectrum from broadcasters who have pending FM translator applications from 2003 and nonprofits who’d like to have a low-power FM license. While officials said at the recent Radio Show they need to decide how to handle the four petitions for reconsideration filed by broadcasters about the proposed translator application caps, officials say they haven’t forgotten about potential LPFM applicants.

LPFM supporters have told the agency they’d like lots of time, say several months, to prepare their license applications once the commission finalizes the LPFM rules.

In lobbying visits to the FCC this week Prometheus Radio Project representatives have emphasized three things, second-adjacent waivers, local origination requirements and tightening the definition of “local.”

Prometheus representatives argued in support of a second-adjacent frequency waiver standard modeled after the FM translator rules, according to a summary of the meeting. Current second-adjacent frequency restrictions keep LPFM stations out of urban areas because of lack of frequency space, according to the advocacy group. FM translators operating at higher power levels than LPFM stations already use second adjacent frequencies without incident, says Prometheus.

Broadcasters have cautioned the FCC not to grant such waivers on a routine basis, citing interference concerns. Prometheus is telling the agency if a station on a second-adjacent frequency will not interfere with an existing station, then the FCC should grant an LPFM license to a broadcaster for that frequency.

The group says a local programming origination requirement would ensure that mostly viable LPFM applications actually reach the commission when an LPFM window does open — unlike the first window when the bulk of the applications the FCC received were deficient.

Prometheus urged the commission to require each LPFM licensee locally originate at least 20 hours of programming a week. “We continue to believe a local origination requirement is necessary to ensure that LPFM licenses are awarded to applicants that are well-situated to serve local needs, rather than to applicants that will not be able to produce local programming and will instead have to air nationally syndicated non-local programming,” writes the advocacy group.

Paired with this request is one for the commission to tighten up the term “local,” to define who can actually acquire an LPFM license.

Citing a 2009 Penn State study of LPFM network affiliations, Prometheus says of the roughly 1,000 LPFMs, nearly a quarter (234) have a religious affiliation and carry network programming. “The troubling aspect of this phenomenon is that religious broadcasting does indeed enjoy a dominant presence over the airwaves. Its intrusion into the low-power arena is not a result of inaccessibility to the public over the airwaves, but rather a result of taking advantage of the FCC’s naïve notion that limiting the LPFM licenses to nonprofit entities will in itself lead to its localization and avoid conglomeration and the emergence of networked programming,” according to Prometheus.

While not breaking the FCC’s rules, Prometheus feels the national religious organizations are taking advantage of a loophole and urge the commission to close it, saying clearer definitions of localism need to be maintained and restrictions on signal retransmission need to be expanded to LPFMs.