Because the government declared a state of emergency, can I use a rule that says that stations can increase power or use whatever means possible to make communications?

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There are three different rules that come into play and the short answer for an FM or LPFM station is.. no.

§73.1250 addresses broadcasting emergency information.  This rule permits operations from emergency locations (such as in the aftermath of a tower being destroyed).  This rule also allows broadcast stations to be used for “point to point” communications to emergency personnel in the event of an emergency.  A provision in this rule, §73.1250(f) is sometimes misconstrued as a rule permitting FM stations to increase power.  This specific rule states that an AM station may use their daytime facilities at night.  An AM station’s daytime facility is normally at a higher power than the nighttime facility.  This is what would suggest a “power increase”.  FM stations must remain at their authorized facility unless modified by the Commission on an order or special temporary authority (see §73.1250(g)).

§73.3542 is a general catch-all rule that states that the FCC can grant authority for stations to be placed on the air in extraordinary circumstances.  Reasons include emergencies involving life and property, a national emergency proclaimed by the President or Congress or in the event of a war in which the USA is engaged in and the grant of this facility is to support the war effort.  This rule does not bestow any automatic operating authority.  A request will take all circumstances into consideration, including the number of other stations on the air.  Two of the most famous recent §73.3542 operations were during Hurricane Katrina such as the authorization for Radio Katrina to operate up to 4 kW.  In that case, over a wide area where there are over 50+ radio stations, only 5 were on the air.  The other was an FM transmitter that was set up in the Houston Astrodome to provide information to residents who were sheltering at the stadium.

The language of §97.403 is frequently misquoted as giving blanket permission to operate a broadcast station without advance authorization.  The rule reads: “No provision of these rules (Part 97) prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available”.  This rule applies to the amateur radio service and not to broadcasting. 

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Answer Date: 
Thursday, March 19, 2020