Weigh in on new rules 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 question of where stations can be licensed is the biggest issue at stake, so we’ve addressed that in a separate article. Here you’ll find a quick breakdown of some of the other big questions on the table. You can also download a pdf of all the proposed rules from the FCC site.

To weigh in on any of the proposals, you can modify the template FCC comments on the Prometheus website and hit send. If you have questions, feel free to contact us.

250 watt and 10 watt stations

The FCC has proposed a new rule allowing low power FM (LPFM) stations to increase their power from 100 watts to 250 watts to better serve their listeners, especially in rural areas. The agency is asking for public comment on whether the increase is a good idea, whether only existing LPFMs should be eligible, and whether eligibility for the power increase should be limited to stations outside the urban areas in top markets. 

We think this could be a huge help for LPFM stations, and we don’t see any reason to limit a wattage increase to already-existing stations. FM translators (repeater stations) already operate at 250 watts. Although we don’t want 250 watt stations to preclude opportunities for 100 watt LPFMs in urban areas, we don’t think the FCC’s geographic restrictions make sense, so we will be proposing some revisions to the plan.

The FCC is also proposing to cancel the ten-watt LP10 service, which was created back in 2000 but never implemented. In some cities, there’s no room for a 100 watt LPFM station, so a smaller station might be the only option for community radio. We believe all communities need community radio, so we are looking closely at the ways the FCC could free up opportunities everywhere.

Local programming

LPFM applicants who pledge to produce eight hours of local programming each day already get an extra credit "point" on their applications, giving them an edge against competitors. Now the FCC has proposed to offer an additional point, favoring local programming even more. But we think that broadcasting a minimum amount of local programming each week should be a requirement for LPFM stations.

Most low power FM (LPFM) radio stations produce diverse, locally relevant programming, from city election coverage to live music. But some so-called stations are actually no more than a transmitter box in a closet, distributing canned programming for national networks 24/7. These "stations" take up spots on the dial, blocking opportunities for real community radio. And since low power stations have no local programming requirements, these sham stations aren't breaking any rules.

 Even a modest local programming requirement would help ensure that every low power radio license goes to a real community radio station. You can weigh in on this issue with our local programming FCC Comment Tool.

Other proposals for “extra credit” points

When more than one applicant applies for the same channel, the FCC selects a winner by awarding points for different criteria. Currently, applicants can get points for three criteria: pledging to air eight hours of local programming each day, pledging to remain on air for twelve hours each day, and demonstrating two years of established community presence as an organization. 

Now the FCC is proposing to extend the “established community presence” from two years to four, which we don’t think is necessary. The FCC is also proposing to give a point to Native Nations who would be serving listeners on Native lands and points for multiple organizations filing as consortia. 

Prometheus will be proposing several other ideas for new points to improve the process of selecting among LPFM applicants.

Interference rules

Interference is what happens when a listener can’t hear their radio station because the signal of another station drowns it out. Preventing and resolving interference complaints are major issues in radio regulation. Most of the interference rules proposed by the FCC are mandated by the Local Community Radio Act, so there isn’t much room to suggest changes.

The LCRA requires LPFMs on the third adjacent frequency (three clicks on the dial from a full power station) to broadcast periodic announcements so listeners know the source of any potential interference. It also requires the FCC to accept informal complaints, as opposed to formal affadavits, accept complaints about mobile (car radios) as well as fixed reception, and accept complaints from any distance away.

LPFM stations operating at distances closer than the third adjacent frequency must use the same interference rules as FM translators. And stations using second adjacent channel waivers must go off the air if they cause interference to neighboring stations, and stay off until the interference has been eliminated. These rules are also similar to the rules used by FM translator stations today.

Weighing in

If you want to send a comment to the FCC on any of the proposed rules, you can use the template FCC Comment Tool on our website and fill in your own text.