Updated May 5, 2020
Because we are getting questions, here is an update on the status of the drive to allow LPFM stations to operate up to 250 watts ERP (7.1 km service contour).
When the FCC adopted the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in MB Docket 19-193, it "tentatively rejected" our LP-250 proposal based on RM-11810. This proposal called for not just a power increase, but also an expansion of availability for LPFM to allow them to be engineered more like FM translators while meeting specific statutory requirements of the Local Community Radio Act (LCRA) where it comes to providing specific distance separations to full-service (full-power) FM broadcast stations. In our reinterpretation of the LCRA, we had stated that since the old LP10 (10-watt LPFM) service was codified in the rules on the date that the LCRA was enacted, that the mandatory distance separation to full-service stations can go back to the LP10 levels (which would still provide a buffer zone of overprotection) and that contours could be used to scale an LPFM station up to 250 watts at 30 meters HAAT. Stations using this method, that we called the "§73.815 Regime" (named after the section number we assigned for this new rule) would be required to remediate interference to all other broadcast stations (full-service FM, translators and other LPFMs) in the same exact way that FM translators have to remediate interference complaints. Despite this new complexity to the LPFM service, the "simple" LP100 (which we call the "§73.807 Regime") will still be available as to have a "simple way in" as well as protect existing LPFM stations that can't or don't want to make the big leap.
As a result of the tentative rejection, which seemed to be centered on the use of the LP-10 numbers and the more extensive use of contours, REC had proposed in comments that the LP-100 numbers be used instead and that the only contour that would still be included would be an interfering contour to co-channel and first-adjacent channel stations to prevent "foothill effect" interference in cases where LPFM stations have much larger service contours in one direction and the opposite direction beams into a mountain. We still proposed the translator style interference remediation rule for stations wanting to go to LP-250.
In the draft Report and Order the Commission made public three weeks before the scheduled FCC meeting, the FCC rejected LP-250 as proposed because not only was it not "simple", but also because of a new issue, the buffer zone. When LPFM was created in 2000, the FCC put a 20 kilometer "buffer zone" into the minimum distance separations to all full-service protections on co- and first- adjacent channel. This buffer zone was intended to give full-service stations some ability to move or modify without causing displacement to LPFM stations. When the Commission originally brought LP-250 to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 2012, it offered to keep the distance separation numbers for full-service co-channel and first-adjacent to be the same as LP-100 by allowing the larger LP-250 interfering contours to penetrate inside of the 20 kilometer buffer zone. This 2012 interpretation of the LCRA is what REC and other LP-250 proponents have gone on since then. The 2012 interpretation of the LCRA was that the Commission should not decrease the distance.
The 2020 interpretation of the LCRA apparently considers that the buffer zone must remain protected. In other words, the distance separations proposed must take the full 20 kilometer buffer zone into consideration.
In a series of ex parte telephone presentations that I made prior to the 7 day "sunshine" cut-off period (when ex parte presentations can no longer be made to staff), I had presented a "simple" 250 plan. The concept is simple. Take our existing LP-100 service and add a second service class at LP-250 using all of the same rules and policies but with co-channel distance separation requirements 5 to 9 kilometers (and first-adjcent about 2-3 kilometers) longer than the existing LP-100 service.
Using the longer distance separation would mean that some stations that may be in urban or dense suburban areas that would have qualified under the previous LP-250 proposals that were dependent on the LP-100 distance separation numbers would not be eligible under this new plan. However, stations that provide at least 5 to 9 kilometers of additional protection to full-service stations would still be able to upgrade.
Our study has shown that 38.6% of existing LPFM stations would be able to upgrade to LP-250 without any specific issues. An additional 15.6% may be able to upgrade based on the outcome of a second-adjacent channel waiver study at the increased power. An additional 4.2% can upgrade with a channel change that can be done with a minor change. In addition, another 18.5% may be able to upgrade to a "non-adjacent" channel which would require a study showing that the proposed channel will provide less interference either to or from the LPFM station. 23% of LPFM stations would not be able to upgrade at all due to short-spacing with other facilities such as translators or other LPFM stations.
Right now, I am faced with two options on how to approach this.
I can file a Petition for Reconsideration. Reconsideration is warranted because the Commission made this as a decision and provided reasoning. In order for a Reconsideration to be successful, the petitioner would need to show how the Commission errored in their original decision or if there was any changes that took place since the Commission reached their decision that would substantially affect the issue at hand.
I also have the option to file a new Petition for Rulemaking. Under this process, we are "starting over". The Petition will be filed and then it will be up to the Commission to assign a rulemaking (RM) number. This will open a new 30 day period and if the FCC decides to accept this petition to move forward, then a new docket number is assigned and a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is adopted. In that process, there will be a full comment and reply comment period.
One thing to keep in mind though was that througout the 19-193 proceeding, I had pushed for LP-250 to be brought up as a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to MB Docket 19-193 thus opening another comment and reply comment period. Therefore, we will have a full record from supporters and opponents.
For Reconsideration, I have up to 30 days from the adoption of the Order in order to file.
As of 5/5, I am working the numbers, focusing on the populations that would be served if stations were allowed to upgrade to LP-250. You can see those population estimates now by going to check.lp250.com and entering the LPFM station call letters.
More details will follow soon!