LPFM Hopes for Power Increase; 4-0 Recon Vote Expected
The FCC is expected to unanimously reject two low-power FM petitions for reconsideration at Thursday's commissioners' meeting (see 2105270085). LPFM advocates said in interviews they view the move as paving the way for an upcoming LPFM application window and believe this FCC could look favorably on the latest effort to increase LPFM power levels. “We aren’t being dismissed. We’re being listened to,” said Caitlin Reading, who advises the LPFM Coalition. “That’s exciting.”
The recon order rejects an earlier proposal for increased power for LPFM -- nicknamed LP-250 for the increased wattage. It's seen as a necessary step for the agency to consider a more recent petition for a rulemaking for a power increase from REC Networks. If the rejection of the recon petitions leads to a higher-power class, “that’s OK,” said Todd Urick, Common Frequency technical director and author of the rejected petition for increased wattage. The FCC didn’t comment Monday.
Called Simple 250, the newer proposal does away with proposals to change interference restrictions that were highlighted as problematic by NAB and larger broadcasters in their successful previous opposition. “This is a much more realistic plan,” said Reading. The change means it's likely only rural LPFM stations could take advantage of the increase, but “rural” has become a focus of this FCC, said REC Networks LPFM advocate Michelle Bradley, who wrote the Simple 250 petition. Comments on that petition are due June 21.
LPFM supporters believe the Simple 250 petition has a better chance than previous power increase plans because this FCC is seen as less in lockstep with NAB and larger broadcasters. “This is a more LPFM-friendly commission,” said Bradley. Major LPFM improvements were “a tacit nonstarter” at the previous FCC, said Urick. It did approve technical improvements -- the same ones Urick filed a recon petition against. Bradley said she doesn’t believe a 2-2 FCC is a barrier to approval. “LPFM is bipartisan,” she said. “Fifty percent of LPFMs are faith-based.”
Bradley filed her new proposal for increased power as a petition instead of a recon order to avoid gumming up the works for a potential LPFM window, she told us. Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel's meeting preview mentioned the order on recon as setting the stage for a coming LPFM application window (see 2105260076). “This was the cleanest way to handle it,” Bradley said. Based on the November timing of the coming window for new noncommercial educational applications, the new LPFM window is likely to happen either very late in 2021 or in 2022, Reading said,
Urick’s recon petition also challenged technical aspects of several of the rule changes that were part of a relaxing of LPFM requirements in 2020. The other LPFM recon petition that would be rejected Thursday is from broadcaster Foundation for a Beautiful Life, which argues that its applications should be allowed to benefit retroactively from 2020 rule changes.
While Simple 250 is designed to respond to NAB criticisms of the previous power increase proposal, Bradley and others expect the trade group and large broadcasters to oppose it. An NAB spokesperson confirmed that NAB will be filing in opposition. “Of course they wouldn’t like to see more LPFM,” said Reading. LPFM broadcasters aren’t a threat to full-power broadcasters, Reading said. “We are not sharks in the tank with them.”