LPFMs Could Get Big-City Addresses

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A couple of powerful senators are backing a bill that would allow low-power radio stations to take up city residence a little too close for current broadcasters' comfort.

Sens. John McCain and Patrick Leahy Friday will sponsor legislation that will expand the FCC's low power FM service into those urban markets.

Their bill would remove tight interference restrictions imposed by Congress that largely limit the service to rural and mid-sized markets.

The restrictions currently require a low power station to have at least two vacant channels between it and a full power station. That spacing has prevented low power stations from operating in most big markets, where radio dials are crowded.

Advocates for the fledgling FM service said passing the legislation would allow the ranks of LPFM stations to increase from more than 700 authorized today to more than 1,000. More importantly, they say, markets dominated by big media owners will get a chance to hear the independent voices of hundreds of churches and community groups.

The bill also would reinstate the FCC's authority to set interference standards for low power radio--a power the FCC has retained for all other telecommunications services.

Congress imposed the two-vacant-channel restriction in 2000 after the National Association of Broadcasters complained that the FCC's plans to introduce nonprofit low power stations across the country would cause massive interference to commercial stations.

At the time Congress also ordered the FCC to study whether its original plans for looser standards would cause harmful interference or not.  Last June a $2.2 million study conducted by the MITRE Corp. concluded "or not," saying that full power stations won't suffer any appreciable harm if the two-channel vacancy requirement was dropped. "Commercial broadcasters can't hide behind engineering arguments anymore," said Pete Tridish, technical director at the Prometheus Radio Project, an advocacy group for low power radio.

"It is unfortunate Sen. McCain is relying on the deeply flawed Mitre study in supporting the authorization of more low power FM stations," said NAB President Eddie Fritts. "Local radio listeners should not be subjected to the inevitable interference that would result from shoehorning more stations onto an already overcrowded radio dial."