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Strong Words on Potential LPFM Revamp

State broadcast groups and full-power owners say changes would compromise integrity of the band

A war of words is ranging around the low-power FM aisle as individuals, full-power broadcasters and state broadcast organizations volley back and forth on the viability of overhauling the LPFM service.

In July, the Low Power FM Advocacy Group asked the FCC to consider revamping rules for the LPFM service. Among the issues in its 200-page submission (posted here, PDF), LPFM-AG asked the commission to upgrade the status of LPFMs and allow low-power stations to boost transmission power levels and expand their ability to sell sponsorships. “The LPFM rules need to be fixed fast to protect the service from destruction,” the LPFM petition argued.

The FCC opened up a window for comments on the proposal, which has sparked strong reaction. A group of 46 state broadcast associations filed a letter with the FCC saying the LPFM-AG request is essentially a “petition for reconsideration of every material aspect of the FCC’s original LPFM rulemaking” and consists of “exaggerated claims … to support the variety of proposals therein do not reflect reality. As a result, there is no basis for fundamentally altering the nature of LPFM service while compromising the integrity of the FM band.”

The groups said granting LPFM stations primary status would increase the risk of interference to full-power FM stations and would limit the amount of spectrum available for FM translators and boosters. In addition, permitting LPFM stations to air commercials or be owned by commercial entities would “eliminate the very reason for LPFM’s existence: to create a supplemental hyperlocal service that is neither profit-driven nor ratings-motivated,” the filing said.

The issue of potential interference was raised by a number of industry players, including the Educational Media Foundation, which wrote to the FCC that proposals suggested by LPFM-AG “will cause significant degradation in FM service.”

The suggestion to boost power is “fraught, in many markets, with potential technical and interference situations,” wrote Cohen, Dippell and Everist, a consulting broadcast engineering firm.

A group of joint commenters representing some 250 full-power radio broadcast stations said in comments to the FCC that the LPFM-AG proposals are “directly contrary to the policy goals espoused by the commission in establishing the LPFM service and its conclusions regarding the design, role and function of LPFM stations.” Other dissenters said the commission does not have the authority to change the noncommercial status of LPFM without a mandate from Congress. “Notwithstanding any concerns (true or not) about the viabilty of the LPFM service, the commission may not legally permit LPFMs to operate on a commeical basis absent a directive from Congress,” wrote Hubbard Radio.

Meanwhile a number of individuals wrote in support of changes to the service including small station operators like Jon Kubiak of WDLN(LP), a low-power station in Dunnellon, Fla.

“By allowing advanced underwriting, it would allow us to stay on the air,” he said. “Even if advanced underwriting was only allowed on a limited basis, for instance, [bartering] for shows that contain commercials, or limiting commercial time to four minutes per hour, it would be a great help to struggling LPFMs.”

A power increase and enhanced underwriting would also benefit the station, Kubiak said. “We hope the FCC will seriously consider adopting all or part of this proposal.”

Similar sentiments were filed by Kelly D. Hart, a board member of Community Oriented Radio Endeavours, which owns low-power KORE in Entiat, Wash.

Hart said LPFM stations should be able to operate a second such station in a market, especially if other LPFMs in the area are struggling, and should be allowed to transfer their permits or licenses in cases where it can be demonstrated that the current organization is no longer capable of operating the station.

“Many of the suggestions offered in the petition of LPFM Advocacy Group … have merit to improve the lot of LPFM stations and improve their ability to provide local community-oriented radio which serves the community with the benefit to enhance, enrich, improve and sustain the lives of the listeners within its service area,” Hart wrote.

While not taking a stand on specific issues proposed in the LPFM-AG filing, the Finger Lakes Alliance for Independent Media asked that the commission “reexamine the ability of full-power FM stations to rebroadcast digital signals on FM translators in relation to the ability of LPFM licensees to effectively compete in the marketplace. A reexamination of the policy is in order to allow for a more diverse and robust radio programming market.

Other commenters said increasing an LPFM’s power and allowing it to broadcast commercials would benefit not only the licensee but also potential business owners who cannot afford the high rates of stations in the same or nearby communities.