The Local Community Radio Act is 10 Years Old!

Thanks to Pete Tridish for reminding us that on this day, ten years ago, the Senate passed, on unanimous consent, the Local Community Radio Act of 2010 (LCRA).  Just a day prior, the House passed the legislation on voice vote. The legislation was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011.

The enacted LCRA of 2010 was the fourth attempt by Congress to pass this legislation which was based in part on the outcome of a study that was mandated in the previous Radio Broadcast Protection Act on the impact of third-adjacent channel short-spacing to the existing radio services.  The MITRE Report was the product of the construction of several experimental LPFM stations in the early 2000s and clearly demonstrated that the chances for interference to existing facilities from LPFM stations on third-adjacent channels was next to nothing. 

As a result of the LCRA, over 2,800 LPFM original construction permit applications were filed in the 2013 “Second Generation” filing window.  Unlike the “First Generation” LPFMs, these stations were not required to meet any third adjacent channel protection requirements towards other domestic facilities. 

The LCRA was a product of many years of hard work by Prometheus Radio Project as well as various civil rights and media justice organizations.  I personally remember being involved in an organized trip to Washington DC in 2009 where we visited the offices of our House and Senate members.  Being from Arizona, I did visit Senator McCain’s office.  While I did not get to meet Senator McCain, there was a special feeling just being there.  Plus, as an added treat, I got to ride the trains that ran between the different office buildings.  Something that the average person does not get a chance to experience.

The LCRA was very much a compromise legislation between the various grassroots forces supporting community radio and the deep-pocketed National Association of Broadcasters, along with National Public Radio, who, both at the time and for one of those organizations, still is, hellbent on stopping the expansion of independent low power community radio.  The original issue that created the need for this legislation was further complicated by what could be one of the FCC’s biggest broadcast blunders ever, the Auction 83 FM translator filing window of 2003, which brought very little revenue, yet thousands of new FM translators, most applied for by one person in Twin Falls, Idaho who made millions (and I mean millions) and furthering foreclosing on new community stations nationwide. 

Was the LCRA, “perfect” legislation?  Not by all means.  This imperfect legislation is further muddied by certain members of the FCC, especially the departing Michael O’Reilly, who was pretty much the NAB’s lap dog during his tenure, who looked for any way to interpret the LCRA in order to favor big broadcasters.  The LCRA is one of the most misinterpreted pieces of legislation that had to be implemented at the FCC.  For example, despite Section 5 of the LCRA stating that LPFM stations and FM translators are “equal in status”, the Commission continues to favor FM translators over LPFM in the terms in engineering rules which directly correlate to spectrum priority.  For example, an LPFM station must protect a translator on their second adjacent channel, but that same protection requirement is not needed the other way.  FM translators can use advanced engineering techniques to rub as close to the contours of LPFM stations requiring LPFM stations to be put on the defense in the event of interference, where for LPFM stations, translators are put into a three-sizes-fits-all concept thus overprotecting the FM translators in many cases and denying opportunities, even if a contour study and real world use would show no interference between the LPFM and the translator.

This brings up the question of whether we need a new legislation.  Kind of like an LCRA2?  There have been many things that have taken place in the past 10 years of the LCRA and the past 20 years of the LPFM service that we need to seriously reexamine.

So, what could be in an LCRA2?  What things should be addressed in a new community radio legislation?  We have our wish list:

  • Amend 307(b) of the Communications Act to give priority to noncommercial (NCE) stations in rural areas, even if it means having to review theories that are decades old and partially motivated by Section 307(b)’s “fair distribution” mandate (i.e. permitting stations inside of second and third adjacent channel service contours).
  • Impose a national ownership cap on NCE facilities, full-service and FM translator.
  • Mandate that the FCC impose rules that truly puts LPFM stations and FM translators on a level playing field from an engineering perspective. This includes the protection of full-service stations. This could also allow for a FM translator to be converted to a noncommercial LPFM facility.
  • Mandate that any low power facility that originates its own programming for more than 3 minutes per hour must be a NCE facility. (Thus, prohibiting commercial LPFM).
  • Eliminate the unnecessary third-adjacent channel language from Section 7.
  • Mandate that the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology develop new standards to prevent “noise” from unintentional radiators (like lighting, power supplies, etc.) that impair the broadcast and other critical services, including amateur radio.

For the past 10 years, LPFM stations have proven time and time again that the technical theories from decades ago have evolved and that FCC technical policy needs to catch up.  As long as LPFM continues to be portrayed as a “simple” service with “inexperienced operators” and while the FCC refuses to stand up to the NAB, LPFM will continued to be hobbled as the bastard step-child.   While no final decisions have been made yet, it is very likely that Jessica Rosenworcel will be the next (acting) chair of the FCC.  Whether the FCC will have 5 members any time soon also has yet to be seen.  We must continue to urge the FCC to take LPFM seriously and allow the training wheels to finally come off, regardless of what “Mister Nabb” has to say about it.

Again, thanks to everyone who worked behind the scenes in the late 2000s to make this all possible.