RM-11287 is a multi-party petition that calls for the opening of the AM band to small broadcasters. Two of the five parties involved also filed the original petition for rulemaking that led to LPFM’s conception.

This has been a long time coming: citizen interest in LPAM has percolated since the 1990s, and there’s been open discussion of the idea since at least 2002. In 2003 a respected broadcast engineer submitted a proposal to the FCC which called for the creation of 30 and 100-watt “neighborhood radio” AM stations with 1-5 mile broadcast ranges. The FCC never formally acknowledged receipt of this document. In 2004 efforts were made to revive the proposal, to no avail. Building on these previous efforts with copious field experimentation led to the petition the FCC finally accepted.

RM-11287 attempts to differentiate LPAM from LPFM in several respects. The most significant is its commercial nature: LPAM seeks to “fill the current gap between small stations and megacorporations…where mid-sized businesses used to be” in the broadcast industry. Petitioners contend that while LPFM addresses a “community coverage gap” opened by the consolidation of radio since 1996, “[t]here remains, in radio and in other mass media industries, a separate, but similarly dangerous, ‘small business gap'” which “harms the nation by hindering economic growth and also by limiting the free flow of information and ideas.” It is proposed that one entity may own up to 12 LPAM stations nationally, although no more than one in any given market.

Multiple options are presented for the technical requirements of an LPAM service, with power levels ranging from 1 to 250 watts. All are geared toward keeping administration of the service simple. It is believed that under such conditions LPAM stations may provide opportunities for access to the airwaves that LPFM simply cannot: for example, according to cited analysis from REC Networks, metropolitan Detroit is currently off-limits to LPFM, but as many as four possible LPAM frequencies exist in the city.

Some components of the petition, like asking the FCC to make licensing decisions between competing applicants based on their proposed broadcast content, will simply not fly. And given that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the FCC to auction off all commercial broadcast licenses, implementation of the proposal as written would require the blessing of Congress. But the fact that the FCC is at least open to a rudimentary level of discussion about LPAM is encouraging. Comments on RM-11287 are due in mid-November (on or around November 20).