The push by low-power FM proponents to drop third-adjcacent channel protections for full-power stations, thus allowing more LPFMs on the dial, is gaining more attention from Congress.
The Federal Communications Commission maintains that doing so would result in only a small amount of interference to full-power stations and it supports the expansion of the LPFM service by dropping those protections.
LPFM proponents said at a House subcommittee hearing this week that thousands more of the low-wattage outlets could be on the air if H.R. 1147, the Local Community Radio Act, passes. Opponents said if that happens, the FCC seems to be okay with some interference affecting some full-power stations or their translators, interference that could creep beyond the third adjacents and affect second adjacents as well.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who owned radio stations for 21 years, said he’s received letters from public radio stations concerned about displacement of their translators given the current way the bill is written — language he says would give the FCC authority to affect beyond third-adjacent full-power protections. He’s heard that some LPFMs are airing ads and acting as commercial stations and pressed the commission to make sure LPFMs are serving their communities, as full-power stations do.
But bill co-sponsor Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said of LPFM: “It gives people a voice that they may not have now. Studies have shown we can do LPFM without stepping on the signals of higher-power stations.”
The FCC wants to drop the third-adjacent channel protections. Chief of the FCC’s Audio Division Peter Doyle said 859 LPFMs are licensed and on the air. At the same time, the agency has licensed more than 4,000 new translators with no impact from LPFMs and said, “There’s been no discernible increase of interference during this licensing process.” The FCC remains convinced the impact from dropping third-adjacent channel protections to translators or full-power stations “would be extremely modest,” he said. The FCC expects “enormous interest” in the next LPFM application window.
Cheryl Leanza, representing the United Church of Christ and speaking for LPFM proponents, said, “We know low-power is safe because there are thousands on the air now. They don’t cause interference. The only difference is who owns them, whether they’re a member of NAB or not.”
Testifying for the National Association of Broadcasters was Beasley Broadcasting EVP/CFO Caroline Beasley, who said full-power stations and LPFMs can co-exist but that it’s important to maintain interference guidelines. Broadcasters are concerned about interference, because if a listener hears it in some form, like static, she said, “They will simply change the channel.” The study on potential for LPFM interference done by Mitre years ago recommended a way to mitigate interference to full-power FMs from LPFMs, she said. “There’s still room for tens of thousands of additional LPFMs — even with keeping the third-adjacent channel protections.”
Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., chairman of the Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee, said while expanding options for more LPFMs is desirable, Congress must be certain it would be implemented in a way that would not jeopardize full-power stations, emerging HD Radio and radio reading services.
Before the hearing’s conclusion, lawmakers asked the FCC to provide more details later on interference studies that have been done and details of an FCC rule that protects translators. Boucher did not say what the next steps by the subcommittee would be.