FCC Takes First Steps to Implement New Local Community Radio Act

The Telecommunications Law Resource Center is the most comprehensive reference and news platform for communications law, covering broadcasting, cable, broadband, telephony and wireless;...

The Federal Communications Commission at its July 12 open meeting took the first step toward implementing the Local Community Radio Act of 2010, a new law that allows the agency to approve more licenses to operate low-power FM radio stations in the country.

In a 4-0 vote, the commission released a third further notice of proposed rulemaking laying out a plan of action for clearing out the queue of pending translator station applications while also processing new applications for low-power FM community radio stations.

An application window for new low-power FM stations could be open as early as the summer of 2012, the FCC said.

The applications for new translators—low-power stations that can only rebroadcast the signal of a full-power station—would be processed for small markets and rural communities, under the agency's rulemaking.

Dismissing Applications in Large Markets.

In order to leave some space for new low-power FM stations, the commission is proposing to dismiss translator applications in larger markets where new translators would fill up any remaining available space appropriate for low-power stations.

In 2007, the FCC concluded that processing as many as 6,500 pending FM translator applications filed in Auction No. 83 would frustrate the development of low-power FM radio service. The agency at that time established a going-forward limit of 10 pending applications per applicant, but then imposed a freeze to permit the consideration of petitions for reconsideration of the limit.

The Local Community Radio Act requires the FCC to ensure that licenses are available for lower-power FM and FM translator stations, with licensing decisions based on community needs and translator and low-power FM stations always staying “equal” in status. As such, the NPRM seeks comment on these standards, and concludes that the existing 10-application cap is “inconsistent” with the Act's mandates.

In doing so, the FCC is proposing to adopt a translator application processing policy based on the availability of spectrum for low-power FM stations in specific markets.

Commenting on the FCC's action, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), the lead sponsor of the Local Community Radio Act, said, “I am delighted to see that the FCC is moving forward to carry out legislation I championed for so many years. This is a major victory for community radio, and I urge the FCC to license as many LPFM stations as possible.”

By Paul Barbagallo