Relaxation of LPFM interference standards

May 1, 2009


Two bills (H.R. 1147 and S. 592) have been introduced in Congress that could lead to a wave of new LPFM stations — possibly thousands of them. The bills would statutorily eliminate LPFM's third-adjacent channel protections to full-power FM stations. The House version has garnered the support of 22 Representatives, including members from both sides of the aisle.

The new legislative initiatives are part of a back-and-forth struggle over third-adjacent channel protections, which has been going on since the LPFM service was initiated in 2000. The bills have new momentum as a result of Washington's interest in localism in the radio service. This interest, in turn, has been fueled by the consolidation of the radio industry and the resulting diminution in local ownership of stations. The economic downturn has contributed to the problem by causing the elimination of news and informational programs on radio.

As originally conceived, LPFM stations were not expected to protect third-adjacent channel full-power FM stations from interference. Such protections were thought to be unnecessary due to the relatively small geographic areas where interference might occur (i.e., immediately adjacent to the LPFM's transmitter site). But radio industry concerns about the interference that could be caused by a large number of new LPFM stations triggered Congress to step in and overrule the Commission by amending the Communications Act to maintain third-adjacent protections. Acknowledging some doubt as to the extent that such interference would pose a threat, Congress directed that the FCC study the issue further.

That in turn led to the 2003 Mitre Report, prepared for the Commission by the Mitre Corporation at a cost of more than $2 million. Mitre concluded that third-adjacent channel interference would not be a significant problem. The broadcast industry disputed these findings.

In 2004 the FCC, based in part on Mitre, asked Congress to delete the third-adjacent provision that had been added in 2000, but no action was taken on that request. Then, in late 2007 the FCC adopted interim processing rules that would permit LPFM stations to seek waivers of the second-adjacent channel protection requirements. At the same time the FCC proposed to do away with the second-adjacent channel protections now included in the LPFM rules. These actions caused the FCC and Congress to focus anew on the third-adjacent channel interference issue.

As noted above, the bills are viewed as bolstering the Commission's efforts to promote localism in broadcasting generally and have language in them to that effect. The bills also suggest that increasing the number of LPFM stations will increase minority and female ownership in broadcasting and will enhance communications during local or national emergencies. Nevertheless, the new bills, while generally de-regulatory, provide that third-adjacent protections must be maintained for full-service noncommercial FM stations that provide radio reading services (RRS) on their SCAs.

If the bills pass and third-adjacent protections are eliminated, and if the FCC then pursues its 2007 initiatives and adopts final rules eliminating the second-adjacent channel protections as well, full-power FM stations will be protected only from co-channel and first-adjacent channel LPFM interference. Because the FCC is planning to open a window for new LPFM stations later this year, adoption of all the pending proposals by Congress and the FCC would make spectrum available for thousands of new LPFM stations.


Dateline

June 1 is the deadline for submission of biennial ownership reports by radio stations in Arizona, DC, Idaho, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

June 1 is the deadline for radio stations in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming with more than 10 full-time employees to electronically file their Broadcast EEO Mid-Term Reports (Form 397) with the FCC.

June 1 is the deadline for radio stations licensed in the following states to place their annual EEO Reports in their public files: Arizona, DC, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.


Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC, Arlington, Virginia. E-mail: martin@fhhlaw.com



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