REC Advisory Letter #2: LPFM stations operating on channels 201~221 (88.1~92.1): NCE filing window

The following is a first Advisory Letter from REC Networks to Low Power FM (LPFM) stations operating on reserved band channels 201~220 (88.1~91.9) and on channel 221 (92.1), which is first adjacent to channel 220 (91.9) to inform these stations about an upcoming filing window at the FCC for primary full-service facilities that can cause interference to or displace secondary LPFM stations.

In 2021, the Federal Communications Commission is planning to hold a filing window for new full-service noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcast stations in the “reserved band” (channels 201~220, frequencies 88.1~91.9).  This window will be for new full-service “full-power” FM broadcast stations with effective radiated powers of up to 50 or 100 kW, depending on which portion of the country the station is located in.   The last such filing window was conducted in 2007.  Stations from this window could be on the air as soon as very late 2021 or 2022.

Applications for full-service FM stations are not required to protect LPFM stations, nor are they required to protect FM translator stations.  As a result, LPFM stations may be subject to possible displacement.   

§73.809(a) of the rules state that full-service stations are protected from LPFM interference to the direction reception of the full service station by the LPFM station operating on a co-channel or first-adjacent channel (+/- 0.2 MHz), provided that the interference is predicted to occur or actually occurs within:

  • The 70 dBu community coverage/city grade contour of the full-service station,
  • The community of license of such full-service station, or
  • Any area of the community of license of the full-service station that is predicted to receive at least a 60 dBu signal.

Predicted interference shall be calculated using the contour overlap model. Actual interference will be considered to occur whenever reception of a regularly used signal is impaired by the signal radiated by the LPFM station. 

This interference definition does not to extend to second or third adjacent channels, nor for stations on intermediate frequencies (53 or 54 channels (10.6 or 10.8 MHz) higher).  While the text of §73.809 does give a definition of intermediate frequency interference, the actual requirement to protect intermediate frequencies was removed in the 2013 rule changes. 

Predicted interference to full-service stations

If the filing of a new or modified full-service facility is predicted to place the LPFM into a situation where they will be interfering under the criteria already stated, the LPFM station will be afforded a chance to demonstrate that interference is unlikely.  If interference is still likely, then the LPFM station must cease operations at the time when the new or modified full-service station starts on-air program testing.

Actual Interference to full-service stations

A full-service station claiming interference by an LPFM using the guidelines above must file a complaint with the FCC and serve a copy on the LPFM station.  Upon receipt of this complaint, the LPFM station must cease operations within 24 hours unless a solution is reached that is agreeable to both the full-service station and the LPFM.  Once suspended, the LPFM station must receive authorization from the FCC to resume operations, such as when remedial changes are made.   If the full-service station is not cooperative in the effort to resolve the interference by refusing to allow the LPFM station to apply remedial techniques to resolve the interference, then the LPFM is absolved of any further responsibility of the complaint.

Interference from new full-service stations

Even in cases not shown above, a new or modified full-service FM station on the same or first-adjacent channel of an existing LPFM facility may result in interference.  Depending on the location of the station, this interference can be a loss in coverage in a particular direction or more destructive interference.  LPFM stations should consult with REC or a consultant of their choice to determine the potential impact of a proposed or granted full-service facility on the continued operation of the LPFM station. 

LPFM moves and channel changes

§73.870(a) of the Rules permit LPFM stations to move up to 7.2 miles (or further in some cases) and upon a technical showing of reduced interference, a change to any available channel.  Without the technical showing, channel changes +/- 1, 2, 3, 53 or 54 channels are still permitted.

When changing channels or moving to a different location, that location and channel combination must meet the distance separation requirements specified in §73.807 (see exception in the next paragraph).  It is important that the FCC is unable to give waivers of distance separation in respect to full-service stations, no matter how compelling the argument is because of statutory requirements in the Local Community Radio Act.  The FCC, by precedence, will not give waivers in respect to short-spacing (by distance) translator facilities or other LPFMs, even of a technical study can demonstrate no interference or even if the other station agrees to the short-spacing.

LPFM stations that are now short-spaced to a full-service FM station (or FM translator) as a result of a subsequently authorized full-service or translator facility may not move closer to that facility.  It may move to a different location that is the same distance away.  Keep in mind too that when calculating distances, they are rounded to the nearest kilometer.  Therefore, 10.6 kilometers is the same as 11.4 kilometers.  A short-spaced LPFM station can move further away from the short-spaced station even if the new distance still does not meet the minimum distance separation requirements.

Areas likely impacted

LPFM stations most likely to be impacted are those located outside of the city centers of the top 100 media markets as the availability of new NCE stations in urbanized and suburban areas is fairly limited.  Overall, due to the previous rules that were in effect for the 2013 and the 2000/2001 LPFM windows, there are very few LPFM stations operating in the reserved band due to the need to protect Channel 6 TV stations, both full-power and low-power. 

In the 20-year history of LPFM, there have been very few forced displacements.  The areas where displacement is likely in the 2021 NCE Window are also likely to have alternative channels available for channel changes. 

On the map below, areas that are not shaded in red are potential areas where new NCE stations may be proposed subject to the rules:

Mutual Exclusivity (MX)

Like with LPFM, competing applications filed in a NCE filing window will be declared mutually exclusive.  Due to the contour nature of full-service NCE, there is a possibility of “daisy-chained” MX groups being formed that can cover a wide area.  In those cases, its possible there will be only one winner.  LPFM stations that may be impacted by these MX applications should carefully watch the progress made in the filing window in order to determine whether displacement may be likely.

LPFM is secondary

Throughout this window and every day, we must remember that LPFM stations are secondary and are mere “guests” on the dial.  LPFM stations are not entitled to any protection from full-service (primary) stations and must give way when necessary.  Full service stations should never be contacted or bullied by LPFM stations to “turn their power down”, etc.  (trust us, we have seen this behavior in the past) If you have evidence that another station is not operating in accordance to their licensed parameters, a complaint can be filed with the FCC. 

LPFM stations "graduating" to full-service

During this filing window, LPFM stations that can propose a technically qualified facility may file in the window for a full-service station. It is important to remember that an LPFM station (regardless of channel i.e. 88.1~107.9) would be required to have to change channels into the reserved band (and in many cases, within the reserved band).  LPFM stations in the "non-reserved band" (92.1~107.9) are unable to "upgrade" on their existing channel.  For more information, see our NCE Window Information Sheet.

 Resources

If you have any questions, there are plenty of sources for help:

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