FCC widens the door toward LPFM grants, translator thaw


6,500 FM translator applications have been frozen since 2005 as the FCC and Congress have worked to sort out competition between the translators and the expanding LPFM service. In a third notice, the FCC seeks comment on a market-based approach that would set LPFM minimums in many markets, and unfreeze translator apps in smaller markets and rural areas, among other things.

In crowded markets, where there is only room for the minimum number or less of new LPFMs, pending translator applications would be dismissed immediately, while those in areas with plenty of uncontested frequency space, they would move toward approval immediately.

On the translator front, the FCC said it the NFPRM also proposes doing away with the ten-application per customer cap on applications, and also bolsters the use of FM translators to expand the service of signal-challenged AM stations, particularly those day-times who go off air when the sun goes down. On the other hand, the Commission is seeking comment on ways to prevent mass-applications from those who may be seeking not to operate the translators, but rather to resell them.

The measure passed by a unanimous 4-0 vote, with several of the commissioners urging participation from the communications community to keep the ball ruling. The FCC said it hopes to start awarding LPFM licenses no later than summer 2012.

Michael Copps took the occasion to again congratulate the Third Circuit for striking a blow against consolidation. He decried the homogenous programming and dumb-downed news of the consolidators and said that LPFM may provide some relief.

Robert McDowell, the sole Republican on the Commission at the moment, was glad to see the 10-translator cap go away, and also offered full-throated support for the NFPRM. McDowell was also pleased to see an expansion in the use of FM translators for AM stations, which he noted often serve the same types of audiences that LPFMs do.

Mignon Clyburn and Julius Genachowski were also firm supporters, both noting the opportunity to bring diverse and local programming to markets that will be getting new LPFM stations, not to mention expanded service from other existing full power stations.