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Feature: LPFM Lurches Forward

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4/3/01

After several months of delay, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has taken another step forward in implementing its plan for new low power FM (LPFM) radio stations.

FCC staff have finished the official revisions to the LPFM plan mandated by Congressional action last year. More restrictive rules are now in place that put the majority of the American population out of reach of new LPFM station signals, and radio pirates of any kind are now permanently banned from participating in the new service.

Because of the restrictive rule changes forced on the FCC by Congress, most of the applications filed for new LPFM stations before the rules changed were rendered invalid. The FCC's new Report and Order will allow some of these potential broadcasters a chance to modify their applications, but most of them have either been "frozen" (pending the opportunity to modify them at a later date) or dismissed.

It is not clear whether those applicants denied by the new restrictions will get an opportunity to reapply in the near future. The FCC has said it wants to eventually accommodate those who were sideswiped by the rule changes, but is not making any immediate plans to do so.

It is interesting to note that the only two Commissioners to issue additional public statements on the new LPFM rules were the current Republican members of the five-member Commission: Chairman Michael Powell and Harold Furchtgott-Roth.

Furchtgott-Roth dissented in part from the new rules, claiming that more public input should have been allowed on the modifications made; if the FCC would have done so, he said, "a more harmonious LPFM regime would have resulted."

According to Chairman Powell, the agency has begun its Congressionally-mandated "experimental testing" of LPFM stations in several markets around the country. The results of those tests are now due to Congress by June; lawmakers technically still have the right to further scale back or eliminate the fledgling service completely if they don't like what the results show.

However, if the powers-that-be allow what is left of the LPFM plan to move forward, the first stations could be on the air by mid-summer. These will serve various rural areas around the nation.