The Local Community Radio Act has been law now for a little more than three weeks, and since then the hardy radio activists at the Prometheus Radio Project have been hard at work mapping the road ahead. We here at Radio Survivor have many questions about what’s next for low-power radio, and we’ve also fielded questions from several RS readers. Lucky for us, Prometheus policy director Brandy Doyle was willing to fill in some of the blanks.
What does the FCC have to do first?
Those of us who’ve been watching the FCC for years know that just because the Act was signed into law doesn’t mean the Commission would be launching right in to issuing licenses. So, I first asked her if the FCC first would have to open up a proceeding to take public comment.
“Yes,” she says, “we think the FCC will need to do a rulemaking to clarify the intent of the new law and update the rules going forward. Hopefully that rulemaking will open this spring, probably after the Auction 83 translator situation is addressed.”
That translator situation refers to the fact that the Commission has a queue of repeater station applications to resolve that have been frozen since 2003. According to Doyle, “the pending translator applications are the number one issue impacting LPFM availability. In many markets, translator applications flood nearly all available channels, leaving almost nothing for LPFM.” At the same time, “the Local Community Radio Act requires the FCC to ensure spectrum availability for LPFM, and we know the Commission is working on solutions that comply with the law.”
As to how the FCC will resolve this conflict, Doyle says that, “we (at Prometheus) think the FCC can sort the translator situation without a new rulemaking, but we don’t know yet what they will do.”
Will there be room for new LPFMs in the most crowded markets?
As a resident of Chicago, the third largest market in the US with a very crowded radio dial, I have a real concern about whether there will be an opportunity for any LPFM stations at all within the city. The same concern goes for other big markets like Los Angeles and Chicago.
Doyle answers this concern with some optimism. “In the centers of top markets such as Chicago,” she says, “the FCC will likely need to use its authority to grant second-adjacent channel waivers to locate new LPFM stations.” These waivers would allow an LPFM to be situated just two spaces on the dial away from a full-power station. For example, a low-power station could be at 101.5 when there’s a full-power station at 101.1. Doyle says that Prometheus hopes “such waivers will go to any station that can demonstrate an absence of predicted interference using the contour method, which accounts for terrain in allocating stations.”
Are old TV channels 5 & 6 new frontiers for LPFM?
With the digital television transition behind us there are now some more useable frequencies on the far left end of the FM dial. Additionally there’s been some talk about opening up the space just left of the FM dial–formerly used by analog TV channels 5 and 6–to be used for radio. The possibility of more FM real estate has many would-be community broadcasters wondering if that means more space for LPFMs.
Doyle expresses a bit of caution about proposals to open up more FM space. “We want to see LPFMs throughout the dial, however, so we’re against any proposal that might relegate LPFMs to the newly available spectrum or assumes that this new space is a complete solution for LPFM availability. We’re also concerned about proposals that require people to buy new radios (an issue with the lower TV channels).”
Nevertheless, she says that, “with that caveat, we’re excited about any new spectrum for low power FM.”
10 watt stations — ever?
“Haven’t heard anything.”
Big thanks go to Brandy for taking the time to answer my long questions and make some difficult prognostications. A lot of work lies ahead for Prometheus and community radio advocates this year. But at least in 2011 the focus will be on getting stations licensed and built.