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Breaking down the House’s new LPFM bill

It’s certainly easy to understand the sentiment expressed by a commenter to my last LPFM post:

If the NAB is for it, you can pretty much guarantee that it is to the detriment to LPFM.

And while the LPFM bill passed by the House yesterday, HR 6533, does contain compromises agreed to by the NAB, on balance it is far more positive for LPFM than negative. I’m certain we have Prometheus Radio Project and other LPFM groups to thank for the positives.

Michelle Eyre of REC Networks did us a favor by breaking down the details of the bill. The primary concession to the National Association of Broadcasters is that while LPFM stations will be permitted to be spaced closer on the dial to full power stations, the would have to obtain a “second adjacent waiver” in order to be positioned as close as two spaces (say at 100.1 when there’s a full-power station at 100.5). In order to obtain this waiver, an LPFM applicant will have to demonstrate through an engineering study that it will cause no interference. And if there is a complaint of interference the LPFM station will have to remediate it, by first suspending operations and then taking technical measures

Other concessions include making LPFM a secondary service to full-power radio, which means that a full-power station can bump a low-power one if a legitimate change to its license would require it. Furthermore, LPFM stations would be on equal footing with translator stations, meaning that an LPFM applicant could not bump a translator using a frequency qualified for LPFM.

Certainly, this is not quite a win for LPFM that a simple restoration of the FCC’s original 2000 specification would be. In particular, applying for LPFM stations in large metropolitan areas with crowded dials will be more complex than the LPFM process has been so far. Those LPFM applicants looking at second-adjacent channels will have to do more work ahead of time to prove they will not interfere with adjacent stations. Furthermore, they will be more prone to objections from those adjacent full-power stations, who may be able to delay or stymie their applications with objections about potential interference.

Now, these sorts of administrative hassles have always been a part of full-power station licensing. For instance, the community station I worked at in Champaign, IL had its application delayed for years due to objections filed by a station on the same frequency more than 120 miles away in Chicago. But these sorts of speedbumps have not existed for LPFM before, which was designed to have a relatively simple and inexpensive application process in order to greatly lower the barrier to entry.

The bill still has not yet come to a vote in the Senate, There could be changes made in the other house of Congress, but I’m doubting supporters would want to mess with things. At least the Senate is finally out of gridlock and bringing bills to a vote this weekend, so there is hope. I’ll be following LPFM’s progress this weekend and will certainly post if and when something happens.

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4 Responses to Breaking down the House’s new LPFM bill

  1. John Anderson December 18, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    LPFMs have always been secondary to full-power stations; this is the status quo. The major concession, as Michelle pointed out, basically requires more interference-protections for FPFM stations by LPFMs. Among secondary services, The bill directs the FCC to “prioritize” applications of LPFMs, translators, and booster stations based on the needs of the local community – a nebulous proposition and one which, as she points out, makes it difficult for LPFMs to reclaim or displace all the spectrum sucked up by translators over the last eight years or so.

    The other concession requires the FCC to conduct an economic analysis of LPFM on FPFM stations (this was something that was also part of the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act, and was something the MITRE report of 2003 dismissed as unnecessary). However, this economic impact analysis will not affect the FCC’s ability to move forward with an LPFM filing window.

  2. Paul Riismandel December 18, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    Yeah, I didn’t quite mean to say that making it a secondary service was anything new.

    Thanks for the additional clarifications, especially on the “economic analysis” report. I agree that the report won’t be a stumbling block, and will likely end up like the Mitre Report, simply confirming what we already know, that LPFM isn’t an economic threat to full-power stations.

  3. Greg December 18, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    “In order to obtain this waiver, an LPFM applicant will have to demonstrate through an engineering study that it will cause no interference.”

    “FCC OKs Increase in HD Radio Power”

    “In effect, this high bar will serve to only bolster the appearance that HD radio does not cause interference because it will be too costly to demonstrate it according to the Media Bureau’s satisfaction, not because listeners aren’t actually experiencing degraded analog radio reception… At this point it will be up to non-HD stations and affected listeners to band together if they have any hope of seeing digital power increases limited or eliminated. However, this seems pretty unlikely to occur, especially amongst listeners. Given the sorry state of most commercial radio to begin with, listeners are more likely just to abandon radio when their favorite stations becomes degraded from HD interference. This move to improve the reception of HD radio signals might just end up chasing away more casual listeners who just associate poor audio quality (not just poor programming quality) with commercial radio.”

    The FCC is in-the-tank for the NAB, NPR, and iBiquity. It will be the same bullshit for the LPFMs.

  4. Greg December 19, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    “In order to obtain this waiver, an LPFM applicant will have to demonstrate through an engineering study that it will cause no interference.”

    Isn’t it interesting that this is just the reverse logic of IBOC, that stations have to prove they ARE being interfered with. How about IBOC stations have to prove thay aren’t interfereing with stations, certified by non-interested parties.

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