REC updates FCC on LPFM: Despite translators, many LP250 upgrades can still happen but LPFMs need more displacement options now
In a letter to the FCC commissioners and senior Media Bureau staff, REC has given an update to refresh the record on RM-11749, the REC LP-250 petition for rulemaking. Despite the FCC's AM Revitalization efforts which involve an opportunity for Class C and D AM stations to obtain an FM translator and move it up to 250 miles, the percentage of granted LPFM stations that can upgrade to the proposed LP-250 service on the same channel has only fallen from 73% to 72%. While there will be three more filing windows for FM translators within the next year, REC does expect this number to fall further but overall, we expect the upgrade rate to remain extremely high.
REC has also expressed concern about the increase in FM translators, especially in urban areas where translators are coming in very close to LPFM stations. REC notes that LPFM stations are not specifically protected by FM translators under the "direct reception" interference rule §74.1203(a)(3) which states that the direct reception of full power, FM translator, FM boosters, TV channel 6 and even Class D stations (known as "the original LPFM") are protected but LPFM is not. REC has advised the Commission that we are already aware of real-world direct reception interference to LPFM stations being caused by the moved translators.
REC also points out the polar differences between the distance separation rules for LPFM and the contour overlap rules for FM translators which result in a LPFM station being "deadlocked" by a moved-in translator based solely on distance to the translator regardless of the directional pattern of the translator. As a result, REC is asking that the FCC allow waivers of §73.807(a) to allow for distance short spacing of LPFM stations to co-channel and first-adjacent channel translators if contour overlap studies prove there is no interference. REC cites a case in Miami where such a request was denied by Audio Division staff citing the Local Community Radio Act.
REC has pointed out that Section 3(b)(1) of the Local Community Radio Act states that statutory distance separation rules are only required between LPFM stations and "full-service FM stations". The LCRA does not consider an FM translator as a "full-service" station. That distinction is made in Section 3(a) of the Act. The LCRA in Section 4 does mandate distance separation for FM translators but only if the translator carries a radio reading service on a subcarrier.
In the letter, REC sets out a proposed timeline, which if followed would anticipate current LPFM stations being allowed to upgrade in late 2017 and calls for the next window for new LPFM stations in early 2019.