In a move designed to enhance the long-term viability of low-power FM stations and encourage new voices, the FCC has adopted and proposed additional rules, which will afford LPFM stations quasi-primary service status and provide other benefits. While these new rules will advance the FCC's stated goal of protecting LPFM, they also represent a significant departure from previous policies under which LPFM was a secondary service subject to displacement by full-power FM stations. The following changes were made or are proposed.
In the area of ownership, the transfer of LPFM station licenses will now be allowed, subject to certain restrictions. Under current policy, LPFM stations can be transferred if the seller does not make a profit, and if the buyer is a local entity and has no other media interests. It is expected that this policy will be put into the new rules. Moving in the opposite direction, the Commission is also reinstating the rules that require all LPFM licensees to be local and limit LPFM owners to a single station.
The FCC will no longer permit the practice of airing repetitious, automated programming and counting it as meeting the local origination requirement for LPFM operations. Further, in a move that might alleviate the problem of coming up with local programming, the Commission has also encouraged voluntary time-sharing agreements among LPFM applicants and stations.
Most significantly, the FCC has adopted new interference rules governing LPFM. For the first time, interference caused by subsequently authorized full-service stations will be subject to limitations. If a new or modified full-power FM station is built as authorized but receives interference from an existing LPFM station, the LPFM licensee will now only have limited responsibility to resolve the problem. In addition, the Commission has put in place a procedural framework for considering short-spacing waiver requests by LPFM stations and a going-forward displacement policy for LPFM. In some circumstances the FCC may even deny an encroaching full-service application to protect an incumbent LPFM.
Relatedly, the Commission imposed an application cap of 10 on still-pending FM translator applications filed during the 2003 window. Since FM translators use the same spectrum as LPFM stations, those translator applications are in the way of future LPFM stations. In an effort to clear some of that spectrum for LPFM use, the FCC will require applicants with more than 10 translator applications to pick their best 10. The rest will be dismissed.
In the rulemaking proposal adopted simultaneously with the rule changes described above, the Commission has tentatively concluded that full-service stations must provide both technical and financial assistance to any LPFM station that might receive interference by a new or modified full-power station. The Commission has also reached the initial conclusion that for LPFM it should use the contour-based protection methodology in place in the translator service. This will have the effect of expanding the opportunities for new LPFM stations.
February 1 is the deadline for submission of biennial ownership reports by radio stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York and New Jersey.
On February 1, radio stations with more than 10 full-time employees that are located in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi must file their Broadcast EEO Mid-Term Reports (Form 397) with the FCC. These reports must now be submitted electronically.
Also on or before February 1, radio stations in the following states must place their annual EEO Reports in their pubic files: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Jersey and New York.
Martin is a past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, Arlington, VA. E-mail