Almost one year after it was initially created, LPFM has been reduced to a sliver of its original idea. The matter has raised both strong support and fierce opposition over the past year. Individuals, large corporations and community interest groups have voiced their concerns over the service and the help or harm it will create.
The general idea of diversity on the airwaves is a good one. The situation we have now, with too many stations held by too few owners, is the result of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Many—especially LPFM supporters—believe that the consolidation of ownership has resulted in a greatly reduced variety of entertainment and information offerings.
Looking back at some of the original goals of the Act from 1996, it was stated that reducing the ownership limitations previously established would stimulate private investment, promote competition and protect diversity of viewpoints and voices among the media. I don't think that happened. Instead, the frenzy of buying and selling has made many stations money machines to recover the purchase price. Broadcasting in its true sense is the only way to maximize revenue potential for many stations. The niche has been lost.
LPFM was created in part as a reaction to the 1996 Act and also from the increasing popularity of unlicensed broadcasters (also called microbroadcasters and pirates). The FCC did not help matters by eliminating Class D FM stations. (Isn't it strange that the low power stations previously classified as Class D were deemed an inefficient use of spectrum—until LPFM was introduced?)
The LPFM supporters feel that the extra stations will provide opportunities for additional voices to be heard. The LPFM opposition does not want to clutter the existing spectrum with even more signals than were created with the 80-90 docket. The two sides are throwing apples at oranges. To provide diversity in an already crowded situation, don't add more voices, change those already speaking. I support some of the principles behind LPFM. In most markets, station formats have been reduced to homogeneous levels. The station names may change between borders, but the content is the same.
On the technical side, is third-adjacent protection necessary today? Is second-adjacent protection necessary? I have heard arguments on both sides, and to be honest, I don't know what the answer is or whose test results to believe.
LPFM was pushed through too quickly without sufficient information to satisfy existing broadcasters. I was never convinced that LPFM would be able to successfully serve the niche audiences that were proposed as listening audiences. We are a highly active and mobile society. To assume that the targeted audience will always be within the limited LPFM service contours is not realistic.
The contest over LPFM is as diverse and intense as our last Presidential election. When I learned of the Radio Preservation Act being incorporated into the budget legislation, I was concerned. It does not belong there. The larger legislation carries some important changes, and it was almost certain that it would pass, but adding the Radio Preservation Act to it was a final effort by a dedicated opposition movement.
While all the budget legislation banter was taking place, I also received information from audio streaming providers touting their services as an easy alternative to the LPFM hassle. I think this is a wonderful idea and could be quite economical for many potential niche broadcasters. It may not be perfect, but it is an available route.
There is considerable activity in every aspect of media. Kennard wants broadcasters to spend less time fighting LPFM and more time embracing digital. I think most broadcasters are prepared (perhaps reluctantly) to accept digital when a standard is created. It is the FCC who is creating obstacles it seems.
I look forward to the nine-market test mandated by the Radio Preservation Act because it should settle the potential interference second- and third-adjacent channel issue. Then again, I guess I shouldn't worry about it too much. In a few years, no one will remember LPFM anyway.
What do you think the future of LPFM will be?