REC Networks: Low Power FM: Generation 3 Filing Window
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The Low Power FM (LPFM) radio service was created by the FCC in 2000 to allow for community organizations, educational institutions, churches, ministries, government public safety agencies and tribal governments to have a noncommercial short-range radio station with an effective range of 3½ miles to provide hyperlocal content for a portion of a large community or a smaller community. Certain aspects of LPFM policy are based on the Local Community Radio Act of 2010.

Non profit organizations, government agencies and tribal entities only

Licenses and authorizations for LPFM stations are limited to the following types of organizations only:

  • Educational institutions (accredited schools and colleges).
  • Educational organizations (non-profit corporations with an educational purpose and only upon a showing that the proposed radio service will advance the organization's educational objectives, this includes churches and ministries)
  • Government agencies that use the station for public safety purposes (police departments, fire departments, transportation agencies, emergency service agencies, etc.)
  • Tribal entities for the purpose of broadcasting to tribal land.

Educational organizations and institutions should be incorporated in any state to be properly recognized by the FCC.

The FCC has some very strict rules on unincorporated associations. Applicants claiming to be unincorporated associations must include a letter signed by an attorney licensed to practice law in the state involved that demonstrates that unincorporated associations are recognized as non-profits in the state. In addition, there must be a statement showing how the organization's structure is consistent with the state law. Unincorporated associations must also include a description of any actual activity as an educational organization or institution that the unincorporated organization engaged in prior to the filing of the LPFM application. REC strongly advises against going down this avenue and recommends that all nonprofit organizations be incorporated.

All FCC applicants and licensees must have a FCC Registration Number (FRN), which can be obtained through their CORES system. The FRN must be unique for the organization and can't be an individual's FRN. For the FRN process, an Employer ID Number (EIN) issued by the Internal Revenue Service is required.

Licenses and authorizations for LPFM stations are not available to any of the following:

  • Individuals
  • General partnerships
  • Any for-profit corporation, including LLCs
  • Educational institutions that are for-profit corporations

Application/Ownership Limits

  • Educational organizations and educational institutions are limited to one LPFM station. They may only file one application during the window.
  • Government public safety agencies may have an unlimited number of stations as long as they are within their jurisdiction. During a filing window, multiple applications can be filed by public safety agencies. If multiple applications are filed, one application may be designated as a "priority application". The applications not marked as priority will be dismissed if they conflict with any other LPFM applications filed in the window. The priority application will continue to compete in the selection process.
  • Tribal entities proposing service on their tribal lands may own up to 2 LPFM stations and can file 1 or 2 applications during the window

For government and tribal entities, please contact REC Networks directly at 202 621-2355 for assistance.

Cross-ownership prohibited

LPFM stations cannot be licensed to organizations where any board members have an attributable interest in another broadcast station (radio or TV including FM translators, TV translators and LPTV stations) or other media subject to the ownership regulations (such as local newspapers). Examples of an attributable interest include:
  • Being a board member of another LPFM or full-power non-commercial station
  • Having an ownership interest in a commercial broadcast station anywhere in the country or a newspaper that has a general circulation in the area where the LPFM station would be located.

These two examples were not all-inclusive.

Stations operated by schools and colleges that already have a full-power FM, AM or TV station licensed to it may obtain an LPFM license, but only if the LPFM station will be operated by the students of the institution. Please contact REC for assistance on this.

Corporation status required

In order for an organization to be a qualified licensee, they must have, prior to the opening of the filing window, recognition from a state government as a nonprofit corporation and that their corporation status is active at the time of the filing window and at all times thereafter during the life of the station. As mentioned above, unincorporated associations that meet the very strict guidelines of qualification may also participate.

It does not matter to the FCC if the organization was incorporated in a state other than the one where the LPFM station is applied for or licensed in. However, some states may require that out of state nonprofits file for a foreign corporation status in order to do business in the state. Foreign corporation status is not required by the FCC.

Nonprofit corporations are not required to have an IRS 501(c)(3) status to apply for an LPFM station. Having a 501(c)(3) may benefit the nonprofit as it permits them to receive tax deductible donations and may make them eligible for future grants. Organizations should consult an accountant or an attorney for further advice in respect to the 501(c)(3) status.

Educational objective required

Applicants for new LPFM stations for educational organizations and educational institutions are required to include in their initial application a statement that describes the organization, their current educational objectives and a description of how the radio station would advance those educational objectives. Information should include a listing of programs that will instruct or teach, whether it is or is not for any credits and if possible, a proposed program grid highlighting the educational programming. LPFM stations are not required to operate all educational programming but may also provide entertainment programming on a noncommercial basis. Granted applicants will not be required to follow this educational statement to the letter on the air but it is intended that stations do convey some form of educational, as opposed to commercial radio service.

Applicant must be local

For educational institutions and educational organizations, the organization must have one of the following within 20 miles of the LPFM station (10 miles in the counties and areas designated as Nielsen Audio top-50 metro markets):

  • The organization's headquarters (principal place of business, even if it is a residence),
  • A campus of an educational organization, or
  • 75 percent of the board members residing within that area.

Organizations may be formed and filed with the state at any time prior to the opening of the filing window. Organizations that have consistently met the local requirements above for at least 2 years (24 months) will receive additional priority in the event of conflicting applications. Organizations that were not fully organized through the state before the time of filing the application in the window are subject to disqualification.

For government public safety applicants, "local" is considered at any location within the agency's jurisdiction and for tribal entities, anywhere on the tribe's lands.

Board member requirements

The following requirements apply to the individual board members:

  • They must list any pending felony case or any case decided in the past 10 years.
  • They must disclose any other case of involvement with fraud against the government or discrimination.
  • They must disclose any cases where the FCC had found that the lacked character to be an FCC licensee (where the FCC stated in the past that such "future applications" must be disclosed) or there are still unresolved character issues.
  • They may not be denied federal benefits under the US Anti Drug Act. This is the same law that prevents those convicted of drug crimes in the past from receiving student loans.
  • They have not engaged in any form of unauthorized unlicensed broadcasting (also known as "pirate radio") in violation of Section 301 of the Communications Act.

Normally, no more than 20 percent of an organization's board may be non-United States citizens. Permanent resident/green card and temporary protected status are not considered as being a citizen. Organizations with more than a 20 percent alien control may be eligible, however, this is a complicated process that will require approval from the FCC and from the Department of Homeland Security and will require an attorney to handle.

Proposed station must meet distance separation rules

Sometimes, you may hear a "quiet spot" on the dial and think that an LPFM station can go right there. That is not always the case.

When an LPFM station is proposed, the applicant will specify the location of the station (geographic coordinates), the proposed height of the antenna above ground level and the channel (frequency) the station wishes to operate on.

All proposals must meet specific minimum distances between the proposed LPFM station and:

  • Full service (full-power) FM broadcast stations
  • Secondary Class D FM stations
  • FM translator stations
  • Other existing LPFM stations
  • FM stations in Canada and Mexico
  • and for LPFM stations on 88.1~91.9, Channel 6 TV stations (full-power and low-power).

These distance separation rules are required to assure that there is no interference from LPFM stations to other stations and to more fairly distribute the radio service. Some of these distance separation requirements were mandated by Congress in the Local Community Radio Act of 2010.

For more technical details about these required spacings, see Section 73.807 of the rules for other FM stations and Section 73.825 of the rules for LPFM stations on 88.1~91.9 protecting Channel 6 TV stations.

Site assurance required

While a signed contact is not required, an applicant for an LPFM station must first reach an understanding with the owner of a site for the proposed transmitting antenna that there is an understanding (a meeting of the minds) that in the event a construction permit is granted for the applicant, there is a good chance that an LPFM station antenna can be installed at the site. The applicant will be required to disclose the name and the telephone number of whom site assurance was obtained from.

Does your organization qualify? If so, let's move forward to...