REC Networks: Low Power FM: Generation 3 Filing Window
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LPFM stations are real radio stations and the filing window process is competitive. Here are some considerations to keep in mind: 

Filing an application does not guarantee a granted construction permit

Filing windows are very competitive and in some cases, especially in larger communities where there are fewer channels available for LPFM stations, not every applicant will get a permit to build, even if they meet all of the distance separation requirements to other broadcast stations authorized at the time of the window. During the filing window, all parties wanting to participate will file their applications, but they will not be able to see what others have filed until the filing window closes.  

In addition to the spacing requirements to existing stations, new LPFM applications must meet certain distances with other LPFM applications filed in the window.  No two LPFM stations on the same frequency can be spaced less than 24 km (14.9 miles) apart.  No two LPFM stations on adjacent channels (for example, one on 93.1 and the other on 93.3) can be spaced less than 14 km (8.7 miles) apart.  When this happens during a window, the conflicting applications are considered as mutually exclusive, or just "MX".  After the filing window, the FCC will identify all of the MX applications and then determine which ones have commonalities with other MX applications to create an MX group.  For example, if station A on 93.1 is 21 km from station B on 93.1 and that station C is 8 km from station B but far enough away from station A, then stations A, B and C would constitute an "MX Group".   The 2013 LPFM filing window had 406 such MX groups nationwide. 

Applications that have no such conflicts and also meet the distance separation to existing stations as well as the other administrative requirements for a new LPFM station are considered "singleton" and they will be the first construction permits to be granted.  

The remainder of the applications will be considered "MX".

During the application process, each applicant had to certify that they qualified for certain "points" based on their current situation and pledges that they made:

  • One point is awarded to applicants with an established local presence, meaning that for the past 2 consecutive years, their headquarters, a campus of their organization or 75% of the organization's board members are located within 20 miles of the LPFM station (10 miles in the top-50 market counties).
  • One point is awarded to applicants with broadcast diversity, meaning that they have no other broadcast holdings.
  • One point is awarded to applicants that pledge to maintain a publicly accessible main studio within 10 miles of the station that is open to the public at least 20 hours per week.
  • One point is awarded to applicants that pledge to provide at least 8 hours a day of local programming.
  • One bonus point is awarded to applicants who take both the main studio and local programming pledges.
  • One point is awarded to tribal organizations proposing an LPFM station on tribal lands.

The LPFM applicant also had to indicate the date in which their organization started their consecutive local presence within the community.

Applications cannot be amended after the window to increase points or otherwise improve their comparative position (they can amend to decrease points, but not raise them).

For the identified MX groups and their applications, the FCC will then open a 90 day period in which LPFM applicants can either:

  • Collaborate with one or two equally qualified applicants (using the points mentioned above) in the same MX group to reach a time sharing agreement,
  • Reach a settlement agreement where they agree to dismiss their application in return for the legitimate and prudent expenses they incurred in the filing of the application, or 
  • Unilaterally make a technical change that would break them out of the MX group, meet all distance separation requirements with existing stations and not create any new conflicts.

Following the 90 day settlement period, applicants who reached a time share agreement will be able to aggregate their points.  For example if the MX group as A, B and C and all three stations were eligible for 5 points and stations A and B reached a time share agreement, both stations would aggregate their points for a total of 10 points.  Only applicants with the most points in the MX group would be able to aggregate their points.  There are also provisions for "universal settlements" where if an agreement can be made between all members of the group, that agreement can be considered for approval by the FCC.

The FCC will then review the scores for each applicant in a MX group. 

If only one applicant in the MX group has a lead score, that applicant will be granted the construction permit and an other group members will be dismissed.

If more than one application is tied with the highest amount of points, then the FCC will consider the top 3 of the tied applicants only based on their community establishment dates and then all other applicants will be dismissed.  Of the two or three remaining applicants, the FCC will mandate time sharing in either 12 or 8 hour blocks (depending if there are 2 or 3 stations in the group) and offer a choice of time slots, starting with the applicant with the longest community presence.  When the construction permits are granted, they will be eligible for non-renewable licenses upon completion.  Those licenses can be made renewable at any time by the LPFM stations in the time share group reaching an agreement, even if it is for the same hours.

LPFM applicants who were not singleton and were awarded their applications using the point system are expected to keep their main studio and local programming pledges if they claimed the points.

LPFM is a secondary radio service

There are two types of radio services, primary and secondary.  Primary FM stations are full-service (full-power) stations that have public interest obligations to serve their city of license.  LPFM and FM translators (another low power service for the rebroadcast of other radio stations) are both considered secondary services.  While secondary services like LPFM must protect other primary and secondary radio services, primary FM stations only need to protect other primary FM stations.  This means that if a primary FM station (in the USA or in Canada or Mexico) makes a modification of their facility or if a new primary FM station is created, it will be done without regard of the secondary (LPFM or translator) facility and as a result could result in increased interference to the LPFM station or create a situation where the LPFM may be required to change channels or cease broadcasting.  In the 20+ years of the LPFM service, there have been very few cases of full displacement of an LPFM station, but there have been cases of increased interference which may result in decreased reception in a particular direction.   Because of LPFM's secondary status, stations cannot seek redress or otherwise block a primary full-service station application activity due to increased interference or a displacement risk.

Because of how FM translators protect LPFM stations, there may be a possibility that LPFM stations may receive incoming interference from a subsequently authorized new FM translator or modified FM translator facility, however in this case, there is a redress policy in place to address this.  

As LPFM stations are secondary, they are permitted in some areas where the LPFM station can't cause interference to the primary station but the LPFM station may receive interference from a primary station.  REC will normally warn applicants of potential incoming interference based our predictions.  We always suggest that before choosing a particular channel/frequency to operate on, that a "drive test" be conducted in the area that the proposed LPFM facility will serve to evaluate the current state of the channel.  

Primary stations and other secondary stations must accept any incidental interference from an LPFM station as long as the LPFM station was authorized in compliance with the distance separation rules between LPFM stations and the other radio services. 

Choosing the transmitter site

In order to broadcast, there will need to be a location where the broadcast transmitter and antenna is located.  In some cases, this could be as simple as putting an antenna on a mast on the roof of a business or in some cases, a residence.  This may also require the possibility of going to a site that is designed for radio transmission antennas, such as a leased tower site.  No matter what, you will need site assurance prior to filing an application in the window.  Site assurance is simply a general understanding between the LPFM applicant and the owner or manager of the site that if the LPFM application is granted, that there may be space available at the site to place the transmitter and antenna.  This does not mean any kind of a binding contract, but merely a "meeting of the minds" that the space may be available.  LPFM applicants will be required to disclose the name and telephone number of the person representing the site about this availability. 

When constructing a tower or even attaching an antenna at a certain location, the LPFM organization may be subject to zoning or other land use restrictions that may dictate where towers can be located or the height of the tower. Despite LPFM being a noncommercial educational broadcast use, many zoning departments consider LPFM stations as "commercial" operations.  Some may confuse LPFM stations with wireless broadband or cellular services, which are sometimes the subject of controversy.  Some zoning departments may have restrictions on broadcast stations in certain areas, under the same rules as big radio stations.  You may have to educate your zoning department on the nature of the operation including any health or safety concerns that may be raised.  LPFM applicants should not depend on any federal preemption of local ordinances or any state laws that require reasonable accommodation for "over the air receiving devices" or for amateur radio service antennas.

Antenna structures for LPFM stations must be permanently constructed with a permanent power source, such as "on the grid" electricity or in some cases, solar.  Antenna structures cannot be on movable trailers except under a temporary authority by the FCC when in the course of replacing a damaged antenna or tower structure.  While some LPFM stations have installed their antennas in trees, this should be avoided.

New tower construction may require coordination with the FAA to assure the tower is not a hazard to navigation and would require registration with the FCC.  In some cases, this may require the installation of specific type of lighting or painting of the tower.  In those cases, the LPFM station shares in the responsibility to assure that all lighting is working and to notify the FAA if lighting is malfunctioning.  They are also responsible for assuring that any tower painting is kept maintained.  Requirements for lighting and painting are fairly rare for LPFM stations.  Tower sites may also be subject to certain federal and state laws related to environmental protection such as in areas that are habitats for endangered species, areas that may have significance to Native Americans or construction on or near any site that is of historical significance.  

Site locations must have an appropriate power source.  Most transmitters used in the LPFM service operate on standard 110 volt systems and have a standard household electrical plug.  Some transmitters may require a 220 volt connection.  If the transmitter is located at a site other than the same site where the studio is, there will need to be a way to deliver programming from the studio to the transmitter.  This is normally achieved through internet access at the transmitter site, however some stations may be able to set up direct wireless links from the studio to the transmitter.  If the transmitter is at a location that is not regularly accessible, you will need some form of internet access or a private local area network in order to interact with the transmitter, especially if ordered by the FCC to terminate broadcasting due to interference.  Many modern certified LPFM transmitters have internet interfaces that allow a station operator to remotely monitor their transmitter for compliance and to be able to remotely control the transmitter on or off.

Antenna sites must be safely installed in a manner that avoids nearby power lines and in a manner where the tower structure is properly grounded and adheres to national standards of good operating practice.  In areas that are prone to lightning, devices such as lightning arrestors or "polyphasers" should be installed to prevent damaging transmitting equipment.  In areas subject to deep freeze, LPFM stations should consider antennas with radomes in order to protect the antennas during the winter.

Doing business

LPFM stations that maintain a publicly accessible main studio will need to choose a location that meets all zoning regulations to assure that the location will allow public access and meet any specific restrictions regarding parking spaces, fire safety and access under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Not all LPFM stations require a publicly accessible studio.  In fact many do not have one.  A main studio location may be required only if a pledge to run a main studio was a factor in getting the original LPFM construction permit granted in the event of mutually exclusive (conflicting) applications in the filing window, which we will discuss further below. 

LPFM organizations that are incorporated in a state other than the one they are doing business in may have to apply to the state where they are in for a foreign corporation status in order to collect donations or otherwise do business in the state.  Local ordinances may also require LPFM organizations to obtain business licenses or other use permits.  

With all of that in mind, let's now look at...