On July 12, 2011, the FCC took a historic first step in making true community radio a possibility for more American towns and cities.
At the July Open Agenda meeting, four FCC Commissioners were open in their praise for expanded Low Power FM service. One of them — Commissioner Michael J. Copps — praised lil’ ol’ us, too. Pretty cool!
“Behind the effort [to pass LPFM legislation] was the great and even heroic work of of Prometheus Radio Project, Future of Music Coalition and many other public interest groups whose inspiration and energy overcame the numerous obstacles along the way,” Copps said. Hey, what’s ten years of effort amongst friends?
The reason we’re so into LPFM is because it’s truly community-powered. These small broadcast stations operate at around 100 watts and have a range of about 5-7 miles. That may not seem like much, but they serve as an important alternative to the homogenized content so common to the commercial airwaves. From local music to civic debate to public safety information, LPFM stations can really make a difference. Problem is, service was pretty much only available in rural areas. That’s great and all, but we thought other folks should have the opportunity to benefit from community radio, too.
The FCC announced the opening of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to start the process of making these stations a reality. There are still a lot of things to consider on the road to implementation, which is why the FCC is seeking public comment on their plan.
To move forward, the FCC must clear out the backlog of applications for so-called FM translators, which rebroadcast signals from existing stations. The reason for the pileup? Back in 2003, 12,000 translator applications were filed in a single auction, which could’ve squeezed out LPFM applicants. Pressure from community radio advocates led to the the auction being frozen, but there are still more than 6,000 translator applications pending.
In order to solve the problem, the FCC will employ market analysis to see where translators would crowd out LPFMs, and dismiss the translator applications only in those markets where this would happen. The Notice also calls for the creation of “channel floors” in the top 150 markets — a minimum number of LPFM channels that must be available before the FCC starts processing translator applications. This would preserve opportunities in places where spectrum is most scarce, like urban areas.
There’s definitely a lot more in the NPRM and we’re currently busy looking into the details. We’ll say more in our official comments, but right now we’re glad to see the beginnings of a process for getting more stations on the air.
Stay tuned for more info on the actual application window and process. For now, why not check out Prometheus’ Radio Summer campaign and sign up for alerts!