The authoritative news source for communications regulation
Spacing Raised

NAB, ABC, EMF Clash With LPFM on Power Increases

NAB, ABC and the Educational Media Foundation said the latest proposal to allow increased power (see 2106140045) for low-power FM stations is a threat to the radio band. Many LPFM advocates and broadcasters argue the Simple 250 plan would preserve localism and benefit rural areas, in comments filed by Monday’s deadline in RM-11909. But the FCC “should not have any confidence that LPFM stations are willing or able to ensure the technical integrity of the FM band,” said NAB. Concerns about interference from more powerful LPFM stations are “purely speculation and conspiracy,” said petition for rulemaking author REC Networks.

Increasing rural radio coverage should be part of efforts to address the digital divide, REC said. There has for years “been aggressive movement by the FCC to offer relief concerning FM translator and AM interference issues,” said Common Frequency. “Consideration of LP-250 is overdue as frustration mounts by LPFM operators plagued with facilities that underperform.”

Stevens Point, Wisconsin's LPFM “has proved to be an invaluable asset” for airing local government meetings, COVID-19 updates and emergency information, but its signal often can’t penetrate buildings, said the city, one of many LPFM broadcasters and government entities supporting Simple 250. “Even our county’s closest towns to our transmission site cannot receive our signal at the effective designated 100 watts,” said the Martin County (North Carolina) Tourism Development Authority.

REC said this latest proposal addresses past objections from broadcasters and the FCC on buffer zones and interference concerns. NAB doesn’t believe LPFM stations will abide by interference rules. “Far too many" LPFM outlets "have demonstrated a disregard for the FCC’s current technical rules,” NAB said. It said any grant of the REC proposal should include enforcement provisions. Approving Simple 250 would lead to “further congestion of the already crowded FM band and increased risk of disrupting other FM radio services,” said NAB: “The harms of REC’s proposed LP250 service would aggravate the devastating economic impacts” broadcasters are experiencing due to the pandemic.

With another LPFM application window expected, LPFM stations likely will increase, NAB said. It “strongly objects to implementing any measures that would allow LPFM stations to more than double their power before stakeholders can even begin to estimate the universe of stations.”

EMF doesn't oppose Simple 250 but said the proposal needs more safeguards for incumbent full-power stations. “The increase in LPFM service cannot be at the expense of existing service," EMF said. “The FCC may have urged REC to adopt a simple proposal that minimizes the burdens on LPFM applicants,” but the agency “cannot ignore its statutory obligations” to protect existing stations, EMF said. ABC echoed interference concerns, and said further changes for LPFM are premature. The FCC should allow recently OK'd technical rules “to take root and evaluate their effectiveness before considering yet further changes,” ABC said.

Common Frequency and other LPFM commenters said the FCC should alter requirements for the distance between LPFM stations and other broadcasters, which have become difficult to comply with after the increase in FM translators. “The current FM dial has pockets of open spectrum in irregular places” that are “completely inaccessible” under the current LPFM distance-spacing but allowed for translators under their contour-based rules, Common Frequency said. “It is essential that minimum spacing requirements are not overly restrictive to prevent viable LPFM stations in rural areas,” said Prometheus Radio Project. LPFM stations are at a disadvantage, "especially in urban markets where there are few, if any, available open channels,” said the Oregon Amateur Radio Club.

Expanding power for LPFM stations would help address local news deserts and increase broadcaster diversity, said Media Alliance and Prometheus. Simple 250 “provides broad support to low-power broadcasters located outside the top 100 media markets” and “allows them to better serve the totality of their communities with little to no impact on other broadcasters,” said Media Alliance. “This improvement will further the commission’s long held goals for the Low Power FM service of localism and diversity,” said Prometheus.