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The Local Community Radio Act Demystified
The Local Community Radio Act of 2010 expands the opportunities for local community radio to people in urban areas of the US who thus far have been excluded. You can read the text of the new law at http://thomas.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:H.R.6533:
Below is our basic interpretation of what it means:
The main impact of the legislation is that it repeals the restrictions on Low Power FM radio licensing that were put into place by the Radio Broadcast Preservation Act (RBPA) of 2000. The RBPA said that the FCC couldn't give a license to a Low Power FM radio station (an LPFM) if there was a full-service radio station nearby on the third-adjacent channel (that is, three "clicks" away on the dial). The stated purpose of this rule was to prevent interference to full-service stations, but there has been some good research showing that it's highly unlikely that LPFMs will interfere with full-power stations that are so far away on the dial.
The new legislation removes the restrictions on spacing between Low Power FM radio stations and full-service radio stations on third-adjacent channels. That's what LPFM advocates have been hoping for for years, and it makes space for lots of new LPFMs! Yay! Although our hope was to pass a bill that did nothing besides remove these restrictions, the version that passed through Congress includes a number of new provisions as well.
Here's a summary of those provisions:
- The FCC can't change the rules about how much distance is required between LPFMs and full-service stations that are on the same channel ("co-channels"), or the first- or second-adjacent channels. The current rules require a set distance between stations. These minimum distances assume a worst-case scenario for interference, which means that you can't put an LPFM near a full-service station even if there's a mountain range between the stations that would clearly keep the two signals from interfering. The FCC often uses more modern methods for deciding where to put full-service radio and TV stations that consider the terrain between nearby stations, but according to the legislation, they can't use the modern methods for most LPFMs. However, they may grant waivers to LPFMs that don't meet the minimum distance requirements on second-adjacent channels if the modern methods show that the LPFM won't cause any interference to full-service stations.
LPFM applicants have to follow the old third-adjacent spacing rules to keep their distance from radio stations that broadcast radio reading services.
Any station that doesn't follow the old third-adjacent spacing rules will have to follow strict rules to ensure that they don't interfere with full-power stations. These rules include things like broadcasting notices to warn listeners of other stations about potential interference and shutting down immediately if they receive a complaint of interference until the complaint is resolved.
LPFMs will be secondary to full-service FM stations. This means that if an LPFM causes interference to a full-service station, the LPFM is responsible for resolving the interference, even if it happens because the full-service station moved. The FCC has always considered LPFMs a "secondary service", so this is nothing new. It just means that the FCC cannot change their minds and decide that LPFMs are primary.
Similarly, LPFMs and translators will have equal status. An LPFM will be required to protect a translator that was there first, and a translator will have to protect an LPFM that was there first. Again, this is nothing new, but now it's mandated by Congress.
This isn't a perfect outcome for LPFMs, but it looks a lot better than the old rules. We at Prometheus are ecstatic about the new legislation, and we can't wait to start working with people who want to apply for new LPFMs!
If you have questions about the details of the legislation, post a comment below and we'll reply when we can.