FAQ: Should we ask the FCC for a power increase during COVID-19? Boston got one.

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You can always ask for a waiver of the Commission's rules, but there is no guarantee that you will get one. 

Waivers are granted only if a compelling presentation to the Commission can show that the underlying purpose of a rule would not be served or would be frustrated by application in the instant case and that grant of the requested waiver would be in the public interest; or in view of unique or unusual factual circumstances of the instant case, appliction of the rule would be inequitable, unduly burdensome or contravene the public interest, or the applicant has no reasonable alternative.

In REC's opinion, the Boston waiver for WBCA-LP was granted because the actual LPFM station is licensed to the Boston city government, a public sector agency that is specifically charged with COVID-19 response in their legal jurisdiction (city limits).  The Boston waiver demonstrated that the City is charged with providing official communications to the general public regarding COVID-19 and that the power increase was accompanied by a technical study to demonstrate a lack of interference to other services. 

The Commission, in general, puts more weight on a request that comes from a government agency as opposed to a private sector organization.  Private sector organizations, such as most LPFM licensees do not posess the specific "jurisdiction" by the state to manage the COVID-19 crisis nor are they an "official" outlet for communications.  Therefore, they are at the same level as every other media outlet in the area.  Since there are many other media outlets in the area and since the FCC can't consider program content in making decisions (WNCN Listeners Guild v. FCC), the Commission can only act based on the "physical" facts. 

For COVID-19, the Commission has already granted the ability for LPFM stations rebroadacst full-service stations on an individual case basis if they show that they are physically isolated.  The FCC has also granted blanket waivers to full-service stations to delay their first quarter issues lists and for all broadcast stations in Michigan and Ohio, they have waived the "pre-file" announcement requirements (post file announcements will still be required due to statute).

In the past, the Commission has granted an LPFM power increase in the wake of Hurricane Katrina because at the time, the LPFM station was only one of 5 media outlets still standing over a wide area after the event. 

The best LPFM stations can do right now is providing as much good information as they can to the public and geared towards the station's hyperlocal audience and back it up by using other resources such as websites and social media, which have a worldwide reach.  

REC will only consider forwarding a STA request for an LPFM power increase under the following circumstances:

  • The licensee is a public sector government agency; or
  • A private-sector station is in an area that has a low number of aural services in the LPFM service contour (based on full-service FM 60/57/54 dBu contour and AM 2 mV/m contour, regardless of program format/language of those stations) and further reduced by any stations that serve the same area as the LPFM to be documented as silent; and
  • The proposed facility is sound from an engineering standpoint in respect to interference to other facilities, compliance with international agreements as well as statutes such as the Local Community Radio Act (LCRA)*; and
  • For private sector licensees, there is a signed memorandum of understanding between the LPFM station and the public-sector government agency having jurisdiction in the LPFM service area to provide critical communications services for the duration of the pandemic emergency and the power increase is necessary in order to better reach that specific geographic jurisdiction.

Reminder, "just turning up the power" is a violation of the rules (even during this type of emergency) and could lead to forfeitures and renewal delays.

* - Due to recent interpretations of the LCRA, any technical applications must not create any interference issue in respect to full-service stations with a protected service contour extended by 20 km. In the Boston case, the showing of lack of interference was made possible because the stations surrounding Boston on co- and first-adjacent channel were all FM translator and LPFM stations, which methods of protection relationships are not mandated in the LCRA. 

COVID-19 Coronavirus radio operations
Answer Date: 
Sunday, April 12, 2020