Even though the FCC seems to have all but washed its hands of any further rollout of the LPFM service, there are those who are still trying to steal what crumbs we’ve got to work with. The antagonist of the moment is Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls.

Calvary Chapel petitioned the FCC in June to expand the use of “satellator” stations – translator stations fed by satellite as opposed to rebroadcasting another radio station directly – in the non-reserved band of the FM dial (everything above 91.9). As the rules currently stand, only translators located on noncommercial frequencies (88.1-91.9) can be fed by satellite; commercial translators must take their feeds from a parent full-power FM station. The FCC currently has a temporary freeze on any new translator applications for frequencies located at 92.1 or above.

The combination of the rules and freeze mean operators of FM translator chains – like Calvary Chapel – have been stymied in their dreams of creating a low-budget nationwide radio network. This petition seeks to jump-start that dream. In the process it may also gobble up open frequencies that might otherwise be put to use for live-and-local LPFM stations.

The FCC accepted Calvary Chapel’s petition for rulemaking and in November designated it the docket number RM-10609. A public notice on the proposed rulemaking was issued but never posted to the FCC’s web site.

In the petition (warning, hefty 7 MB .PDF download!), Calvary Chapel – after admitting it already holds 334 FM translator licenses – argues that the rule change is needed because space is running out on the noncommercial FM band (gee, wonder why?). CC suggests that if it were allowed to place repeater stations anywhere on the dial, it might actually open frequencies as translator abusers like itself cherry-pick the most clear frequencies in markets and discard interference-prone channels.

The FCC-watchers at REC Networks picked up on this early and have already gone ’round with Calvary Chapel twice during the comment and reply-comment periods (which close in a couple of weeks). National Public Radio has also filed comments on RM-10609; it halfheartedly supports the expansion of translator use but wants restrictions on just where they might be sited. NPR’s position supports the concept of Calvary Chapel’s proposal but is not comfortable with the translator free-for-all that CC wants.

There are two sick things about this proposal: the first is that Calvary Chapel, an admitted abuser of the translator rules and a big manipulator of the new LPFM service (having filed for dozens of new LPFM stations around the country), is behind it. The second is that, as of today, only 10 comments have been filed on this proposed rulemaking, resulting in the collective input of a whopping six individuals and groups.

As others have written about the FCC’s willful ignorance of public input, it’s a sad state of affairs when the only thing standing between an attempted coup of LPFM is a handful of vigilant citizens in Arizona. It still could happen, though, especially with NPR’s tacit support of the concept behind the petition.