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FCC proposes action for more LPFM community radio stations

As expected, at today’s open FCC meeting the Commission released a Third Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making which lays out a plan of action to both clear out the queue of pending translator station applications and to begin taking new applications for low-power FM community radio stations. An application window for new LPFM stations could open as early as summer 2012.

The applications for new translators–which are low-powered stations that may only rebroadcast the signal of a full-power station–would be processed for small markets and rural communities. In order to leave some space on the dial for new LPFM stations the Commission proposes dismissing translator applications in larger markets where new translators would fill up any last available space appropriate for LPFMs.

In 2007 the FCC froze the processing of 6,500 pending applications for FM translator stations because the Commission concluded that doing so would “frustrate” the further development of LPFM. It then established a limit of ten applications per applicant, which the Commission has now reconsidered. Instead, the FCC proposes a policy based on the availability of spectrum for LPFM on a market-by-market basis. This is in part motivated by a stipulation in last year’s Local Community Radio Act, under which the Commission is required “to ensure that licenses are available for LPFM and FM translator stations; licensing decisions are based on community needs; and translator and LPFM stations remain equal in status.” The change is also propelled by the recognition that a simple translator application cap likely would not preserve spectrum space for LPFM in the largest, most crowded radio markets.

In today’s proposal the Commission suggests a “floor” specifying a minimum number of LPFM frequencies that must remain available in a market in order for translator applications to be processed and awarded.

Responding to the FCC’s proposal, Brandy Doyle, Policy Director at the Prometheus Radio Project, said,

Today the FCC starts to redeem the promise made to thousands of community groups and national organizations that successfully fought to pass the Local Community Radio Act. The Act requires the FCC to ensure channels for low power stations, and we believe a market-specific solution could accomplish that.

Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA), lead cosponsor of the Local Community Radio Act, said,

I am delighted to see that the FCC is moving forward to carry out legislation I championed for so many years. This is a major victory for community radio, and I urge the FCC to license as many LPFM stations as possible.

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