Pai shouts out to LPFM in blog. 19-193 R&O on agenda for April FCC meeting.

Photo of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (courtesy: FCC)

In his blog titled "Digging In For the Long Haul", FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announces that the April FCC Open Meeting agenda will include the long awaited Report and Order (R&O) in MB Docket 19-193, also known as the "LPFM Technical NPRM/R&O".  In this blog, Pai spotlights various LPFM stations that have stepped-up in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic including WNOZ-LP, New Orelans that has been carrying locally produced public service announcements, WOMP-LP in Cambridge, OH that has been carrying local church services to reach elderly and low-income Americans who are isolated and do not have access to streaming services and KDRT-LP, Davis, CA which has stepped up to serve its community after the local college station was forced off the air due to the pandemic. 

Pai recognized that there are now over 2,100 LPFM stations and that the service has matured since engineering requirements were first established in 2000.  With that, he states that the LPFM stations should be able to take advantage of "engineering options to improve reception" and that the Commissiong will be voting on "new rules to improve reception and increase flexibility while maintaining interference protection and the core LPFM goals of diversity and localism" including the expanded LPFM use of directional antennas and permitting LPFM use of FM booster stations.  

In addition to the proposed changes to the technical rules, a controversial aspect of MB Docket 19-193 would eliminate the requirement that all broadcast stations (full-service, low-power and FM translator) operating in the "reserved band" (88.1 to 91.9 MHz) would no longer be required to provide any protections to full-service and low-power TV stations operating on Channel 6 following the sunset of analog low-power television operations in mid-2021.  This specific issue has raised some very recent concerns by ABC, licensee of WPVI-TV, a full-service Channel 6 digital television station in Philadelphia with support from other full-service Channel 6 TV stations from different parts of the country.  In contrast, National Public Radio recently had a meeting with Media Bureau staff to state that based on testing by NPR, digital television receivers are highly resistant to reserved NCE FM interference and that sunsetting NCE FM stations' obligations to protect channel 6 from interference would have direct benefits for public radio stations, allowing them to expand their public services to more listeners.

At this time, REC has drafted an ex parte reply to ABC on this issue.  In our original Petition for Rulemaking, REC asked for LPTV stations to be fully absolved of requiring protection to TV channel 6 stations but did ask for LPFM to put at least on a level playing field with FM translators to protect both full-service and low-power TV by replacing the current distance separation rule with a contour overlap model which would take into consideration the actual operating parameters of protected low-power TV channel stations.  This is to address the issue of a lack of channel availability due to most low-power TV stations being over-protected by a "one size fits all" distance table.  We plan to release our filing shortly.  REC still does not oppose the elimination of all Channel 6 protections but we understand if reasonable protections are still necessary. 

In a recent letter to FCC Staff in Chairman Pai's office, REC recognizes the activities of a dozen LPFM stations that have come up with creative ways to use their stations to inform, entertain and support those who are currently under quarantine and stay-home orders from providing helpful hints, helping to identify essential businesses and government services that remain available, updates on Executive Orders by the governors of their states to holding live concerts either in studio or through remote connection in order to help keep local music alive in the communities they serve. 

REC is not yet in a position to comment on the upcoming Report and Order as we have not seen the draft.  Once the draft is issued, there will be a short period of time to discuss any shortcomings with staff on an ex parte basis.  While the Commission can vote on this item at the meeting, they can also vote early and remove the item from the meeting agenda.  This is what happened to all 7 items on the March Open Meeting agenda as the Commission was unable to convene in person.  

REC expects the draft of the R&O to be published on Thursday, April 2, 2020.  After we have had a chance to review the draft, we will make a media statement that will be available at our website,  Anyone who interacts with the Commission staff regarding this draft R&O needs to make sure that they properly follow the FCC's ex parte rules for reporting communications with decision making staff and to not discuss the draft R&O with staff after the Sunshine Agenda is released about one week before the meeting date. 

Thank you to everyone for your support of growing LPFM.  REC's priorities remain a power increase to eligible LPFMs that can achieve it without creating new interference following established engineering standards, the ability for LPFM stations to use more advanced engineering methods to operate on channels in a manner that still protects other stations while following the statutory requirements of the Local Community Radio Act.  

REC filings in MB Docket 19-193 and related proceedings: