19-193: FCC proposes some technical changes to LPFM, eliminates Channel 6 protection requirements, avoids addressing the real issues facing LPFM stations for the sake of simplicity and to avoid controversy.

The Federal Communications Commission has released a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to propose several technical changes to the Low Power FM (LPFM) radio service, many of these changes were originally proposed by REC Networks and were subject to public comment in the past.

As part of a regular policy that has been put into place at the FCC since Ajit Pai has been Chairman, draft releases of agenda items being considered at the upcoming open meeting of the Federal Communications Commission are made public.

In the NPRM, known as MB Docket 19-193, the FCC recognizes that based on the 2013 LPFM filing window, the service has “matured” and that some of the simplistic policies that were put into place when the service was originally created 19 years ago have hindered development of the service, especially in a spectrum that is more crowded with FM translators and additional full service stations.  This NPRM proposes to amend Parts 73 and 74 to make changes to the LPFM and FM translator rules.

Specific items in the NPRM include:

  • Proposes to permit LPFM stations to use of composite directional patterns in addition to “off the shelf” patterns recognizing that some LPFM stations may need to use directional antennas to meet international agreements or to “relocate in areas with few available transmitter sites”.
  • The Commission proposes to eliminate all FM to TV channel 6 protection requirements for all services (full-service, LPFM and FM translator) with a sunset date on July 13, 2021 and institute a waiver process for LPFM in the interim.  Currently all broadcast facilities on Channels 201~220 (88.1 to 91.9) must provide protection to channel 6 stations.  For LPFM, TV stations and LPTV stations were considered at their maximum facilities, which seriously impacted the availability of channels in the “reserved band” due to extreme distance separation requirements, especially where it comes to protecting LPTV stations.
  • The interim waiver process for LPFM to TV Channel 6 utilizes the contour overlap method used for FM translators outlined in §74.1205(c).  After the proposed sunset date on July 13, 2021, there will be no protection requirement by LPFM stations to TV Channel 6.
  • Extend minor changes past 5.6 km to any location where there would be an overlap of 1 mV/m (60 dBu) contours of the old location and the new location.  This would harmonize the LPFM rules with FM translators.  The 5.6 km distance will remain codified however applicants can use a contour study to extend past 5.6 km.  This, in a way, codifies in part, the Vicksburg Community Radio decision and eliminates the need for those wishing to move a reasonable distance beyond 5.6 km from having to request a waiver of §73.870(a).
  • Codify the use of FM boosters for LPFM stations (currently requires a waiver request, and so far, there have been 5 granted LPFM boosters with 2 on the air.  Four of those granted boosters were handled by REC Networks.)
  • Makes a minor alteration to §73.810 in respect to full-service third adjacent channel stations.

We do note that many of the issues raised by REC were rejected for the sake of simplicity or because of LCRA-related controversy.  This includes a “hybrid” concept to reduce the minimum distance separation from the LP-100 chart to the former LP-10 chart that was codified at the time the LCRA was enacted and then using a contour overlap model to protect full-service stations. This can be done within the statutory requirements of the LCRA.  The NPRM also rejected the option of using contour overlap instead of distance separation for the protection of FM translators and other LPFM stations as these stations do not have a statutory mandate for distance separation under the LCRA. 

Most notably, the FCC did not address the highly supported increase in effective radiated power to 250 watts (7.1 km service contour) for LPFM stations citing the infighting that took place in the 2013 Sixth Report and Order, by a group that was not actively involved in the support of existing LPFM stations despite their claim of being an “LPFM organization”.  The three major LPFM organizations that supported LP-250 in any location where it could fit, REC Networks, Prometheus Radio Project and Common Frequency were overruled due to a Commission misconception that the rogue group actually represented the interests of current LPFM stations. 

Commenting on the NPRM, REC founder Michelle Bradley states:

“Overall, the NPRM is a move in the right direction, but it does fall short to address the actual issues that LPFM stations are actually facing.  Despite the NPRM’s shortcomings, it was the product of many years of hard work, research, analysis, constituent surveys, station feedback and a boots on the ground effort in DC.  While REC is in Riverton, LPFM will have representation in Washington.  I thank my constituents for their trust and ongoing support, and I hope to see more new local stations in the next filing window. I will be working with the Commissioners, their staff and the Media Bureau to clarify some of the misunderstandings on these various issues.  Existing LPFM stations facing issues around interference, especially from translators and have no flexibility to move, despite the few changes proposed as well as potential new entrants who feel their community may be denied new service should contact me and tell me about their specific situations.  The fight is not over, and we can’t give up.”

Based on the comments received in the docket, the FCC is expected to release a Report and Order with their decision on the final rules.  Normally, a major rule change is “writing on the wall” for a future filing window.  REC still projects an LPFM filing window in 2022 or 2023, but it may be sooner.

Finally, REC wants to remind readers that what was published today, July 11, 2019 was only a draft.  This draft can change between now and the time the final version of the NPRM comes up for vote before the Commission (and after that, the Media Bureau will have editorial privilege).  For now, we ask that any contact with decision making staff at the FCC be limited to those groups familiar with the ex parte process such as REC, Prometheus, Common Frequency and the LPFM Coalition.  Individuals and stations will have an opportunity to speak up during the comment and reply comment period.  If you have any specific issues you would like to see conveyed to staff (that are in the scope of the NPRM and the original petition and comments that drove this NPRM), please let Michelle Bradley know.  Thank you for your understanding.

The draft of the NPRM (still subject to change) is available at the following URL:

The original filings made by REC that drove the items in this NPRM can be found at the following URLs: