NPR asks FCC to delay, rethink low-power FM

NPR took a different tack March 16 in the ongoing assault on the FCC’s controversial plan to license low-power FM (LPFM) stations. Lawmakers and the National Association of Broadcasters have opposed the measure outright, but in a petition for reconsideration and a motion for stay, NPR asked the agency to take another look at some aspects of LPFM and delay implementing the proposal until July 15.

Specifically, NPR requested greater protections for translators, radio reading services, full-power stations on third adjacent channels from LPFM stations, and potential digital radio technology. The network says the motion for stay would allow more time for NPR and FCC lab and field tests of interference expected to be caused by LPFM stations.

On Feb. 16, the NAB petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington to overturn the FCC action. In documents filed with D.C. law firm Jenner & Block, the group called LPFM “arbitrary, capricious, and otherwise contrary to law.” NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton says the court could decide the matter by mid-summer if it grants a request for expedited review.

Meanwhile, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) moved to block LPFM by introducing legislation mirroring a bill submitted in the House by Rep. Michael Oxley (R.-Ohio). Oxley urged progress on his bill in telecommunications subcommittee hearings Feb. 17, when LPFM supporters and opponents continued to debate whether LPFM will interfere with the signals of full-power stations. NPR President Kevin Klose reiterated worries that LPFM will also disrupt translators, radio reading services, and the advent of digital radio.

The widespread concern bodes well, says Wharton. “I think there’s a groundswell of support building to step back and say, “What’s this really going to mean for radio listeners?’” he says. “We think the answer is going to be, you won’t be able to hear signals of existing broadcasters in many markets.”

The commission’s LPFM plan, adopted Jan. 20, could permit as many as 1,000 new noncommercial stations, operating at the restricted power levels of 10 and 100 watts, to be shoehorned into the FM band. With rules prohibiting ownership by existing broadcasters, it is one of the few FCC licensing policies of recent years that doesn’t favor the consolidation of radio ownership.

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