House Committee to Allow More LPFMs

The House Communications Subcommittee Thursday passed a bill that would allow more low-power FM stations into the radio band, something the National Association of Broadcasters has argued could create undue interference with commercial stations.

"The time has come to make the airwaves available to the people they serve," said Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) who has been working for years to allow more of the stations in the band. "The time has come to bring low power to the people."

The bill, which was voted on in a markup Thursday, was amended to include stronger interference protections for low-power translators used by full-powers to extend their coverage and a faster track for any interference complaints by full-power stations, but it removes the third-adjacent-channel protection for those stations.

The rule of the road had been that low powers could not be added within three channels on either side of an existing full-power, but the law allowing full powers also directed the FCC to study that separation. The commission concluded that it could be reduced, which is what the bill does.

At a recent FCC oversight hearing, all the new FCC commissioners told legislators they agreed with doing away with the third-adjacent-channel separation.

A few of legislators said they still had concerns, including former House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.). But former radio broadcaster Greg Walden (R-Ore.), one of the industry's longstanding advocates, said that after talking with a veteran engineer, he was ready to support the bill. "I have had lingering doubts in the past about the engineering issues and possible interference issues." But he said that after "spending some time with a broadcast engineer I worked side-by-side with for nearly 22 years, I have come to the conclusion that it is time to move forward and that the interference issues are not what they once were or potentially were."

But Walden did say that the FCC needed to continue to oversee LPFMs to make sure they operated under the rules.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.