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Should FCC License LP250, LP10s?

Low-power wattage debate ensues in wake of FCC proposals

Should the FCC license 250-watt low-power FM stations? What about 10-watt stations?

That debate is beginning to get traction as the industry has more time to digest the commission’s decisions earlier this week on LPFM and FM translators as well as the agency’s additional proposals.

Right now, there are two classes of LPFMs, 100 watts and 10 watts, though the FCC has only issued construction permits and licenses for LP100s.

In its latest notice of proposed rulemaking on LPFM, the agency is asking for public input on whether the LP10 class should be eliminated, without much explanation.

It’s also asking whether a higher-power class, at 250 watts, should be approved for rural areas that are not as spectrum-challenged as urban areas. Both the Amherst Alliance and the Catholic Radio Association favor licensing LP250s.

When Radio World asked for comment on the issue, Don Schellhardt and Nick Leggett, the original two co-petitioners who got the ball rolling on LPFM licensing at the commission, said they favor licensing 250-watt LPFMs in rural areas and retaining the LP10s in urban areas.

On the whole, they’re happy with the proposals and say with the timing of the commission actions this week, odds are good that the agency can meet its goal of opening an LPFM filing window later this year.

The potential 10-watt elimination gives them pause, however. Speaking as individuals, Schellhardt and Leggett told Radio World that losing the LP10s would “close the option of ‘stretching’ scarce spectrum over more urban LPFM stations by reducing the wattage of the typical station. Due to much higher population density, and therefore much larger potential audiences per square mile, an urban LPFM can survive financially at 10 watts, or in extreme cases even at 1 watt, although this wattage could bankrupt an LPFM in a small town.”

The two cite analysis by Common Frequency and REC networks, for example, which they say shows that New York City can’t accommodate any LP100s at all, but can permit allocation of one LP10. By the same analysis, Los Angeles could fit in only one LP100 but would be able to accommodate five LP10s and San Francisco can accommodate two LP100s but could also fit in five LP10s.

Schellhardt and Leggett urged the commission to explain the reasoning behind the potential elimination of the LP10 class of service, noting that when the agency opened the first LPFM filing window more than a decade ago, it said LP100s would be licensed first and 10-watt stations would be licensed later.

Comments are due on the further NPRM to MM Docket 99-25 30 days after Federal Register publication.