New FCC rules could bring community radio to millions of Americans

Prometheus Press Release

WASHINGTON DC-- On Tuesday morning the Federal Communications Commission proposed rules to create opportunities for low power FM (LPFM) radio in urban areas, bringing community radio to millions of Americans for the first time. Tuesday’s proposal is the FCC’s first step towards implementing the bipartisan Local Community Radio Act.

“I am delighted to see that the FCC is moving forward to carry out legislation I championed for so many years. This is a major victory for community radio, and I urge the FCC to license as many LPFM stations as possible," said Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA), lead cosponsor of the Local Community Radio Act, which directs the FCC to expand low power radio opportunities and ensure that channels are available for new stations.

To meet the Congressional mandate, the FCC must resolve a backlog of pending applications for FM translators, repeater stations that rebroadcast the signals of existing stations. The backlog dates back to 2003, when over 12,000 translator applications were filed in a single auction, threatening to flood out opportunities for low power radio nationwide. Thanks to a petition from the Prometheus Radio Project, the FCC froze the auction, leaving over six thousand translator applications pending today.

In Tuesday’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC uses detailed market analysis to determine where translator applications do not leave sufficient room for LPFM, proposing to dismiss applications only in those markets where granting them would prevent new low power stations. Each market is assigned a “floor,” a minimum number of LPFM channels that must be available if the FCC will process translator applications.

“This approach is crafted on the proposition that Low Power should be available in every possible market—specifically including spectrum-limited markets—while permitting translator applicants to pursue more licenses once Low Power FM has a shot at gaining a toe-hold,” said FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps. “There is nothing in today’s action that precludes translator applicants from pursuing licenses in the future even in those markets where pending applications may be dismissed. Today’s action simply clears the path forward to a new LPFM window, a window that may be the last substantive opportunity for LPFMs to obtain licenses.”

“Today, we start the countdown on the return of local voices to the radio waves, as low power radio stations will finally be given space to broadcast in large urban markets,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn. “Already we see amazing rural stations run by farm workers, schools, and churches in rural Florida, Oregon, and the Carolinas, and we've heard of interest from the Chicago public school system, from workers in Baltimore, and from music groups in San Antonio. In New Orleans, local groups want to rebuild their city and connect with their neighbors, and in Miami, health educators in the Haitian community want another outlet to serve their city.”  

“Bringing low power radio to urban areas will help ensure that all segments of our society will have a voice on the public airwaves,” said Wade Henderson, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “This is an important goal because of the powerful role the media plays in the democratic process, as well as in shaping perceptions about who we are as individuals and as a nation.”

“Today the FCC starts to redeem the promise made to thousands of community groups and national organizations that successfully fought to pass the Local Community Radio Act,” said Brandy Doyle, Policy Director at the Prometheus Radio Project. “The Act requires the FCC to ensure channels for low power stations, and we believe a market-specific solution could accomplish that.”

The FCC proposal represents a departure from an earlier plan to resolve the backlog, often called the “ten cap.” The ten cap allowed each translator applicant to keep ten of their applications, a solution that addressed speculation but failed to preserve channels for low power radio. The plan was debunked by Common Frequency, a California-based advocacy group that joined with Prometheus in calling for new solutions.

“We are elated that the FCC is taking another look at this issue. We have always thought that the FCC needed a more practical way of balancing rural and urban usage of LPFM and translator channels. Today’s rulemaking appropriately relies on technical analysis to determine spectrum allocation,” said Todd Urick, Technical Director at Common Frequency.”

The FCC introduced the low power radio service in 2000, allowing non-profit organizations, schools, churches, and emergency responders to serve their communities on the airwaves. Due to restrictions set by Congress in 2000 at the behest of the National Association of Broadcasters, only about 800 LPFM stations are on the air today.

Grassroots organizations, civil rights advocates, and church groups fought for ten years to repeal the restrictions that limited low power radio to rural areas, ending with the passage of the Local Community Radio Act. The law could lead to hundreds or even thousands of new stations, pending the outcome of Tuesday’s rulemaking.


The Prometheus Radio Project has been the leading advocate for low power FM (LPFM) radio since 1998, and for ten years led a bipartisan coalition to expand LPFM, succeeding with the recent passage of the Local Community Radio Act.