REC to FCC: LPFM is a mature service, time to treat it that way.
REC Networks has filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission in response to an inquiry into the modernization of media regulations.
When LPFM was created in 2000, the service was originally proposed as a gateway for organizations new to broadcasting where local organizations could obtain one station and after two years, national organizations can own up to 10 stations. Through very hard work by LPFM advocates, the Commission dropped the national multiple ownership rules and LPFM was "one-to-a-customer" (except Native Nations and public safety). The original LPFM service was designed to be so simple, the FCC felt that applicants did not need to hire consultants to fill out the applications. As a result, simple methods such as distance separation was used instead of the more spectrum efficient contour overlap method. As a result of the various controversies surrounding the LPFM service, two significant pieces of legislation locked a portion of LPFM regulation in time and thus we remain with distance separation to this day.
In comments to the FCC, REC points out that in the 2013 LPFM filing window, over 50% of the granted applications were prepared by 20 different people. These are people (including REC's Michelle Bradley) who are experienced working with FM radio and a majority have the necessary tools to engineer LPFM stations especially in light of the second adjacent channel waiver, a process that did not exist in 2000. Because of the major professional support that is available to LPFM in the same manner that such help is available for FM translators and full-service FM stations, LPFM is now a mature service and needs to be treated as such.
Citing language added in the Local Community Radio Act of 2011, REC has advised the FCC that they now have the authority under the LCRA to make a reduction to the required minimum spacing between LPFM stations and full-service stations on co-channel and first-adjacent channels. REC has proposed to change the §73.807(a) co-channel and first-adjacent minimum distances from the current LP100 tables to the distances that used by the formerly codified LP10 service, a service that was still on the books with the LCRA was signed by President Obama and became law. As a result of this change, REC proposes to reduce the 20 km "buffer zone" that was put in place when the service started to distances from 7 to 12 km. First-adjacent buffer zones are reduced from 20 km to between 15 and 17 km based on full-service station class. A "safety catch" is added to protect full-service stations from "foothill" LPFM stations that may place an interfering contour inside the full-service station's protected contour. An extensive study shows an increase in channel opportunities for existing LPFM stations who are facing displacement as a result of the increase in FM translators.
Also citing other changes made in the LCRA from its predecessor legislation that restricted LPFM, REC is proposing to allow LPFM stations to contour overlap instead of distance separation in order to protect FM translators, other LPFM stations and channel 6 TV stations.
Other changes proposed include the ability for LPFM construction permits to be "saved" by other organizations after 18 months from the grant, the elimination of the 3-year holding period on assignments of on-air LPFM stations, assurances that LPFM stations can only be transferred to qualified organizations, expanding the ability for LPFM stations to use directional antennas, redefinition of the third-adjacent channel periodic announcement, elimination of some restrictions on LPFM-owned translators, the ability for LPFM stations and cross-service (AM) translators to construct FM boosters within their current service contours, an extension of the construction period from 18 to 36 months, expanding the distance that LPFM stations can move, making the use of "LP" on call signs optional and adding rules to require FM translators to protect LPFM second-adjacent channels.
These proposed rule changes will increase opportunities for LPFM stations, especially those faced with displacement, as well as set the foundation for a third LPFM filing window at a time after the two translator windows. These proposed changes will also bring LPFM to a level closer to FM translators. These comments are based on REC's 17 years of experience following the LPFM service as well as comments received by REC through various channels. We thank everyone for their support as we try to improve LPFM on step at a time.
REC Comments in MB Docket 17-105 PDF 1.3 MB