The government shutdown was the topic of our weekly email newsletter, the Radio Survivor Bulletin, this week. In it we touched on its effect on the upcoming low-power FM licensing window, as well as the impact on indecency and unlicensed broadcast enforcement. Here is an update on the LPFM front.
Four business days of government shutdown means that the FCC’s website and low-power FM resources, such as the online frequency finder and application form, have been offline, too. Understandably this is causing some anxiety amongst some groups hoping to apply for their own license during the window which is otherwise scheduled to open on October 15.
I contacted the LPFM advocacy groups Common Frequency and Prometheus Radio Project to get their perspective on the situation. They assured me that their support for LPFM applicants is continuing and they are planning to work with the FCC as soon as the shutdown is over to make sure applicants are not harmed by the effects of the shutdown.
Ahead of the the shutdown, Clay Leander, president of Common Frequency, said that on September 28 he spoke with FCC legal staff to express concerns of the probable shutdown with regard to the LPFM filing window, and to thank them for recognizing CF’s work at the September 26 open meeting.
“This past Wednesday,” he told me, “we joined a conference call and have had continual communications” with representatives of other groups active in LPFM, such as the National Association of Community Broadcasters, REC (Networks), Native Public Media, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Alliance for Community Media, as well as Prometheus.
Leander explained that “The upshot is that our colleagues have agreed to have the three leading contributors to the 99–25 LPFM Docket–namely, Prometheus, Common Frequency and REC–to prepare a joint letter to the Commission requesting to explore with staff upon their return remaining options to either extend or move the LPFM window, preferably before the close of 2013.”
Prometheus policy director Sanjay Jolly said that “Once the shutdown is over we do plan to press the Commission to make fair accommodations to those applicants who may require additional time due to the shutdown. This might entail asking for a delay of the window.” He added that “the specifics depend on when the shutdown ends, where LPFM applicants are at that point and the (FCC’s) Audio Division’s capacity to get everything up and running.”
Leander said that because the groups were advised that paperwork submitted now during the shutdown is “piling up unread,” their letter “will be cued and sent immediately upon resumption of business.”
With the FCC’s own online LPFM tools and engineering databases inaccessible, Leander said CF will continue to prepare the technical portions of applications using professional and open source software tools. He also noted that REC Networks’ myLPFM tool is still available and being updated in light of the shutdown. Yet, Leander cautions that “we all depend on confirming the latest (and) greatest data from the FCC website,” in addition to elevation data from the US Geological Survey and flightpath data from the FAA.
At this point it is fair to assume that the shutdown will not stop the expansion of LPFM. It is also reasonable to believe that Commission officials share a good faith interest in seeing the LPFM window go smoothly and be as broadly accessible to qualifying community groups as possible. The question is really about how much delay there will be, and how much accommodation the FCC is able to make for the applicants who have not been able to use the Commission’s online tools.
We’ll keep you updated.