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

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.” 

FCC Update: New rules and proposals to expand community radio

On March 19, we celebrated a policy victory when the FCC took two major actions to expand community radio. First, the agency announced rules to deal with a backlog of pending applications for translators (which repeat the signals of other stations). After nine years, the FCC is dismissing thousands of these applications to clear the airwaves for community radio! Second, the FCC released proposed rules for future Low Power FM (LPFM) stations, asking the public to comment on the proposals.

Both FCC actions have big implications for community stations, so we break down all the wonky details on translators and share our best guess on an application window timeline here.

March 29, 2012

What are translators, and what do they have to do with community radio?

FCC Decision Opens Radio Airwaves for Communities Nationwide
New rules create opportunities for hundreds of new community radio stations

March 19, 2012

Washington, DC-- In a victory for communities nationwide, today the Federal Communications Commission announced that the agency will open the airwaves for community radio. To make room for a new wave of local stations, the FCC will clear a backlog of over six thousand pending applications for FM translators, which are repeater stations that rebroadcast distant radio stations. The decision will allow for the first new urban community radio stations in decades.

"Today the FCC has opened the door for communities to use their own local airwaves, and that will be transformative," said Brandy Doyle, Policy Director for the Prometheus Radio Project. "We commend the Commission staff for the care and diligence they have shown. We also wish to thank Chairman Genachowski, Commissioner McDowell, and particularly Commissioner Clyburn and her hardworking staff for their efforts on behalf of communities."

The announcement concludes the first hurdle in implementing the Local Community Radio Act, passed by Congress in 2010 after a decade-long grassroots campaign. The FCC is on track to accept applications for new Low Power FM (LPFM) stations nationwide as early as Fall 2012. Community groups are gearing up to apply for the licenses, which will be available only to locally-based non-profit organizations.

When the FCC asked the public to comment on a plan to reserve channels for low power radio in urban areas, the response was loud and clear: We need more community radio, in all of our cities and towns.