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New Study: Urban LPFMs Might Be Just Fine

There may be room to expand low-power FM service into major cities after all. Restrictions barring LPFM stations from operating on third-adjacent channels (a two-channel separation) from full-power stations are not necessary, according to a Mitre Corp. report submitted to the FCC June 30.

Mitre concluded that LPFM stations can be operated on third-adjacent channels if "relatively modest" geographic separation—from a few tens of meters to slightly more than a kilometer—is maintained.

The restrictions, imposed by congressional order, essentially blocked the introduction of low-power stations in most urban markets, where radio dials are typically too crowded to permit LPFM introduction and still maintain a buffer of three channels between them, the standard spacing for full-powers.

In 2000, then-FCC Chairman Bill Kennard pushed for the new low-power stations as a way to promote diversity of voices on the radio band. That proposal would have allowed low-powers to operate on channels only three stops on the dial from existing stations.

In December 2000, citing conflicting interpretations of interference studies and in the wake of an NAB campaign against it, Congress passed legislation requiring third-channel agency protections. But Congress also instructed the FCC to undertake a study of whether LPFMs not subject to third-channel-adjacent spacing requirements actually would pose a serious interference risk. The NAB had no comment last week.

FCC Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree said last week that the FCC will not decide whether to seek relaxed protections until after public comments on the report, due Sept. 12, are reviewed.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was the LPFM effort's most outspoken congressional supporter, although he predicated his support on a lack of "harmful interference." His office had not returned calls at press time.

Future of Music Coalition spokesman Michael Bracy called the report "a slam dunk" for adding LPFMs to the dial. According to the FCC, 744 low power permits have been issued to date, with 220 LPFMs currently operating.