Our Issues

Many people know Prometheus for our work building radio stations or fighting in Congress to expand low power radio. In this section, we share a lesser-known side of our struggle to free the airwaves: the world of regulatory policy. In other words, the rules.

Rules about the airwaves (aka the radio spectrum) are set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is supposed to manage the radio spectrum as a public resource (just as other agencies manage other public resources, such as water or forests). The public can participate by commenting about proposed rules, or even proposing rules of our own. At Prometheus, we advocate for rules that allow greater access to the airwaves for those historically marginalized from media ownership. We think media should be controlled by communities, not corporations. We believe that communication is a fundamental right. Since so much communication relies on the radio spectrum (from radio to broadband to satellites), we see access to the spectrum as a right worth fighting for.

You can learn about our key regulatory issues in the menu on the right, or read below for the latest updates on our regulatory work.

Our Policy Updates

January 2013

In late 2012, the FCC announced that they would begin accepting applications for new low power stations on October 15, 2013. At last! But we know that the FCC's predictions on timing aren't always set in stone (to put it mildly). So what are the steps ahead before the FCC can accept new applications for community radio stations? 

The biggest task ahead is that the FCC must deal with a backlog of pending applications for FM translators. These are repeater stations that extend the signal of existing radio stations. This is the issue most likely to affect the timing of the low power radio filing window.

Thousands of translator applications have been on hold at the FCC since 2003. To save room for low power radio stations in urban areas with limited spectrum, the FCC will be dismissing many of these translator applications. 

How much room will there be for community radio in crowded radio markets? We can't know for sure, but we can make some informed guesses. 

FCC still working on low power radio rules and timeline

The FCC is still working on the final rules for low power radio, and we expect that they will come out later this fall. The biggest issue at stake is where new stations can be located (see a refresher on second adjacent frequencies). Prometheus has also asked the FCC to create a locally originated programming requirement for new low power stations, to ensure that licenses will be awarded to the organizations that will best serve their local communities--not more network radio.

But before the FCC can address the final rules for low power radio, the agency must respond to petitions to reconsider its recent rules for translator stations. The FCC will likely respond to the petitions with revised rules on translators early this fall.

Once the translator rules are out of the way, the FCC will release rules on low power radio and announce the dates for a low power radio application window. The FCC is still anticipating that the window could come as early as Spring/Summer 2013. Stay tuned for updates!

Other policy issues for community radio

The FCC is deciding on a slate of new rules for low power community radio, and they are asking the public to weigh in by May 7. The rules cover a number of important issues, including power levels, interference complaints, where stations can be licensed, and how the FCC should select among competing applicants.

The FCC has proposed rules to expand low power community radio into urban areas, asking the public to comment by May 7. But the same commercial broadcast lobby that blocked the Local Community Radio Act for the better part of a decade is still at it. To beat them again, we have to make our voices heard.

What’s at stake

At its simplest, the issue is whether new low power FM (LPFM) stations must be at least three clicks on the dial away from existing stations, or whether LPFM stations can be just two clicks away, using “second adjacent channel waivers.” Getting to broadcast just three clicks away from other stations (on the “third adjacent channel”) was the hard won victory of the Local Community Radio Act, opening many cities to community radio. But for many other cities, where the dial is more crowded, three clicks away is too much, keeping community radio locked out.  (Watch our four-minute video for a visual breakdown). 

Fortunately, the Local Community Radio Act also authorized the FCC to license low power stations just two clicks away from other stations, waiving the rules on second adjacent frequencies, as long as the LPFMs won’t cause interference to neighboring stations. This could allow new community radio stations in urban areas, doubling or tripling the number of channels available nationwide! (Find out if your community would require a second adjacent frequency waiver with our zip code lookup and check out our national radio forecast maps.) 

Broadcast lobby at it again

The bad news is that commercial broadcasters think they own the radio spectrum, and they won’t give up a sliver without a fight. Last week, a spokesperson for the National Association of Broadcasters said they “have concerns that waiving protections for second adjacent channels will result in very real and very serious interference for millions of radio listeners.”