Low Power FM (LPFM) is a US broadcast service. LPFM licenses may be issued to educational entities, community broadcast operations, public safety and transportation organizations. LPFM is limited to 100 watts of effective radiated power (ERP).
Origins of LPFM
In January 2000, the Federal Communications Commission established Low Power FM (LPFM) as a new designated class of radio station. These stations were allowed to operate at 1–10 or 50–100 watts of power, compared to the minimum requirement for commercial stations at 100 watts. (47 C.F.R. 73.211). Originally, it was supported by activists and groups and figures associated with American progressivism; music artists (such as Bonnie Raitt); church leaders; and educators (for example, American Library Association, the Communication Workers of America labor union, the National League of Cities, and the United Church of Christ).
The original purpose of LPFM was to serve as an alternative to “radio homogenization”, as described in the J&MC Quarterly Journal, as “… Necessary to offset the growing consolidation of station ownership in the wake of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which removed caps on radio ownership, as well as the decline of locally produced radio programming.” The main opposition to LPFMs came from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which opposed the act on grounds to “maintain spectrum integrity” for commercial broadcasting, according to NAB President Edward O. Fritts.
Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000
Pressure from the National Association of Broadcasters urged Congress to slip the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000 into a general spending bill that circulated through Congress. President Bill Clinton signed the bill in December 2000, albeit reluctantly. The actual bill that went through Congress was meant to tighten standards for LPFM stations, in an effort to make it harder for stations to be approved in order to protect full-power FM stations had these provisions:
- The FCC has the ability and jurisdiction to license LPFM stations.
- Third adjacent channel interference protections require LPFM stations to be separated by at least 0.6 MHz from all other stations with the intent of preventing signal interference.
- Applicants who have engaged in the unlicensed operation of any station cannot receive LPFM licenses.
- The FCC agreed to commission studies on the interference effects and economic impact of LPFM on full-power stations (the findings, later published in the MITRE Corporation Report, suggest that third adjacent channel interference protections may not be necessary).
This act basically shifted policy making from the FCC to Congress, which was considered an insult against the FCC.
Local Community Radio Act of 2005
The Local Community Radio Act of 2005 was introduced by Senators John McCain, Maria Cantwell and Patrick Leahy. After the FCC complied with the provisions of the Radio Broadcasting Act of 2000 by commissioning the MITRE Report to test if there was significant interference from LPFM stations on the full-power stations, the study showed that the interference of LPFM is minimal and would not have a significant effect on other stations. According to Sen. Leahy, “This bill will open up the airwaves to truly local broadcasting while protecting full-power broadcasters from unreasonable interference and preserving important services such as reading services for the blind.”
Local Community Radio Act of 2007
Sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressmen Mike Doyle and Lee Terry and in the United States Senate by Senators Maria Cantwell and John McCain, the Local Community Radio Act of 2007 failed to be voted on. The House bill, H.R. 2802, was referred to the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on June 21, 2007. Since the bill was not passed in FY 2007, the bill was removed from the docket as Never Passed.
Local Community Radio Act of 2009
This bill was an update of the Local Community Radio Act of 2007. It would have required the FCC to alter current rules in order to get rid of the minimum distance separation between low-power FM stations and third-adjacent channel stations. Previously, there was a minimum distance requirement; however the FCC found that LPFM stations did not cause any interference on third-adjacent channel stations, thus eliminating the need for such a requirement.
The Local Community Radio Act of 2009 also would have required that the FCC keep the rules that offer interference protection to third-adjacent channels that offer a radio reading service (the reading of newspapers, books or magazines for those who are blind or hearing impaired). This protection will ensure that such channels are not subject to possible interference by LPFM stations.
The final part of the bill required that when giving out licenses to FM stations, the FCC must make sure that these licenses are also available to LPFM stations and that licensing decisions are made with regard to local community needs. The bill had unanimous bipartisan support from FCC leadership. It was passed by the House and referred to the Senate.
Local Community Radio Act of 2010
The Local Community Radio Act of 2010 (based upon the legislation originally introduced in 2005) was signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 4, 2011, after passage in the House on December 17, 2010, and the U.S. Senate on December 18, 2010. In a statement after the bill became law, Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski said, “Low power FM stations are small, but they make a giant contribution to local community programming. This important law eliminates the unnecessary restrictions that kept these local stations off the air in cities and towns across the country.” The Act states that the Federal Communications Commission, when licensing new FM translator stations, FM booster stations, and low-power FM stations, should ensure that licenses are available to FM translator stations, FM booster stations, and low-power FM stations; such decisions are made based on the needs of the local community; and FM translator stations, FM booster stations, and low-power FM stations remain equal in status and secondary to existing and modified full-service FM stations.
In general, the FCC was to modify its rules to eliminate third-adjacent minimum distance separation requirements between low-power FM stations; and full-service FM stations, FM translator stations, and FM booster stations.
Dave Solomon, who is the President of WBWT-LP, is also the Executive Director for The Low Power FM Advocacy Group (LPFM-AG) in Washington, DC as has filed an historic rulemaking petition to further improve FCC rules regarding LPFM. This petition would improve the power to 250 watts, allow local LPFMs to broadcast commercials and allow LPFM station to be protected from large corporate run FM broadcasters when considering transmitter moves. This ruling is known federally as RM-11753 and, as of this writing, is still awaiting review from the FCC. Many large groups, including Entercom, The South Carolina Broadcaster’s Association (representing many corporate stations in SC) and the National Advertising Bureau (NAB) have filed length opposition comments in the hopes of derailing it. LPFM-AG views such opposition as an anti-competitive move by these huge broadcasting conglomerates to silence “the little guy” at the expense of American radio listeners nationwide.
Read the LPFM-AG’s historic petition for LPFM: Click Here (PDF)
Read all of the comments for & against LPFM: Click Here (PDF)