B. Spectrum Considerations
15. New Spectrum Allocation. As an initial matter, we do not intend to create a low power radio service on any spectrum beyond that which is currently allocated for FM use and, as described below, we do not propose to use the AM band. To allocate spectrum not currently used for broadcasting would force consumers to purchase new equipment to gain the benefits of the new service, which would likely have a substantial dampening effect on its success.
16. Channels for Low Power Radio. Although it might be desirable to locate the new low power services on a small number of particular channels, with more than 7,000 stations now licensed on the 100 FM channels, it does not appear possible to designate a particular FM frequency or frequencies for one or more low power services (as proposed in the Leggett Petition). No single frequency is available that would protect existing radio service throughout the country. There also does not appear to be any larger segment of the FM spectrum that is generally more available for LPFM operation and to which we could accordingly restrict low power radio service, but we request comment on this assessment.
17. We propose to add any new low power radio services in the FM band only. We do not favor authorizing low power radio use in the AM radio band, as suggested by some commenters. 31 The interference potential and present congestion in the AM band, where many stations currently experience significant interference and degraded reception, make it a poor choice for a new radio service. The propagation characteristics of AM signals could exacerbate the interference potential of low power stations, causing signals to extend long distances, particularly at night. Indeed, because of the congestion in the AM band and the serious problems of both daytime and nighttime interference affecting many stations, the Commission expanded the AM band in 1991 to provide for the migration of stations to the new segment of the band in order to reduce the congestion and resulting interference in the AM radio band. Report and Order in MM Docket No. 87-267, 6 FCC Rcd 6273 (1991) (subsequent history omitted). We believe that introducing low power stations into any part of the AM spectrum would have a serious negative impact on our efforts to improve the quality of reception in this band. We seek comment on these positions.
18. The FM radio band, 88-108 MHz, is divided into 100 "channels" of 200 kHz each. For convenient reference, these channels are given numerical designations which range from 201-300. Section 73.501 of our rules, 47 C.F.R. ' 73.501, currently restricts the use of FM channels 201-220 (88-92 MHz) to noncommercial educational broadcasting. Pursuant to Section 73.503(a) of our rules, 47 C.F.R. ' 73.503, a noncommercial educational FM broadcast station will be licensed only to a nonprofit educational organization and upon showing that the station will be used for the broadcast of noncommercial educational programming. Accordingly, absent a change in our rules, only those noncommercial entities that meet these requirements would be eligible to apply for and operate LPFM stations in this part of the band, and all operations would have to be strictly noncommercial.
19. Since Congress' first direction to the Commission to study the need for a noncommercial service32 through several statutory requirements which contemplate noncommercial educational broadcast service, 33 it appears that Congress is concerned with the opportunity for and continuation of noncommercial educational broadcast service. The Commission has also steadfastly preserved this important service.34 In considering new classes of FM radio service, we are inclined, at a minimum, to continue the noncommercial educational channel reservation with respect to any new stations that would have a preclusive effect on the operation of full power stations in the reserved band, such as the primary low power stations discussed below. We seek comment on this determination. Commenters should address any statutory limitation on our discretion in this regard. We also seek comment on whether we must as a matter of law or should as a matter of policy extend a parallel reservation to any secondary low power or microradio stations that we might authorize on channels 201-220. Commenters should also address whether all low power (and microradio) services should be limited to noncommercial operation, and whether eligibility should correspondingly be restricted to those who would qualify as noncommercial licensees under our current rules. We also ask whether there are potential applicants for the proposed secondary low power and microradio services being considered that could meet the strict eligibility criteria that pertain to the existing noncommercial educational broadcasters.
20. We contemplate that some low power radio stations, like other radio broadcast stations, would want to use auxiliary broadcast frequencies, where available (for example, for studio-to-transmitter links and transmission of remote broadcasts). While use of auxiliary frequencies may not be necessary for very low power stations with limited range, their use might be essential for a larger LPFM class of station. We seek comment on whether all LPFM stations, whether primary or secondary stations, should be permitted to seek authority to use radio broadcast auxiliary frequencies.
21. Spectrum Priority. Interference protection is a critical issue that could have a potentially significant effect on where we can institute LPFM service and on the number of LPFM facilities that could be authorized, as well as on the extent to which the introduction of such stations could affect existing broadcasters' ability to modify their facilities. Ensuring the effective and efficient use of the spectrum is one of the fundamental responsibilities of the Commission. See 47 U.S.C. '' 151, 303(f) and (g). We must decide whether LPFM services, if authorized, would provide and receive interference protection with respect not only to existing, but also to future full-service radio facilities and the effects of such requirements on both the LPFM or microradio service and on existing broadcasters. Whether an LPFM service has "primary" or "secondary" status with respect to other FM and LPFM services would affect where LPFM stations could operate, the stability of their operations, and the effect they would have on the introduction of new full-service FM stations and improvements to existing stations. In the next section, we propose both a primary LPFM service and a secondary LPFM service to operate at lower power levels. Commenters should carefully consider the effects of these spectrum priority classifications for each new service.
31 See, e.g., Trident Media and Broadcasting, Ltd. Petition for Rule Making.
32 In the Communications Act of 1934, Congress ordered the Commission to "study the proposal that Congress by statute allocate fixed percentages of radio broadcasting facilities to particular types or kinds of non-profit radio programs or to persons associated with particular types or kinds of non-profit activities" and report its recommendations to Congress. See 47 U.S.C. '307(c) (1934).
33 Part IV, Subpart A of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, sets forth a number of provisions intended to provide assistance to noncommercial telecommunications entities, including broadcasters. One of Congress's stated goals is to "strengthen the capacity of existing public television and radio stations to provide public telecommunications services to the public." 47 C.F.R. ' 390(3). For example, Congress has authorized the Commerce Department to make financial grants for the construction of public broadcast stations. 47 C.F.R. ' 392(a). Also, in creating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Subpart D of Part IV, Congress found that "it is in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of public radio and television broadcasting, including the use of such media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes." 47 C.F.R. ' 396(a)(1).
34 See, e.g., Notice of Proposed Rule Making in MM Docket No. 98-203, 63 Fed. Reg. 68722 (December 14, 1998) (in which the Commission, recognizing the importance of noncommercial educational broadcasting, has requested comment on whether to impose limits on activities undertaken by noncommercial educational television licensees on the excess capacity of their digital television signal); see also Amendments to the Television Table of Assignments to Change Noncommercial Educational Reservations, 58 RR 2d 1455 (1986), petition for recon. denied, 3 FCC Rcd. 2517 (1988) (allowing the licensees of a commercial and of a noncommercial channel within the same band and serving substantially the same area to exchange their channels to help preserve educational broadcasting in the wake of decreased federal funding).