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Low-power broadcasting is electronic broadcasting at very low power and low cost, to a small community area. These stations tend to serve small towns, or communities within large cities in the United States. There are close to 3,000 LPTV stations in the U.S. and they are in markets of all sizes, from New York City (5 stations) down to Junction City, KS (2 stations).

The terms "low-power broadcasting" and "micropower broadcasting" (more commonly "microbroadcasting") should not be used interchangeably, because the markets are not the same. The former term is more often used to describe stations who have applied for and received official licenses. The relationship between broadcasting power and signal range is a function of many things, such as the frequency band it uses e.g., SW or FM, the topography of the geographical area in which it operates (mountainous or flat), atmospheric conditions, and finally the amount of radio frequency energy it transmits. As a general rule, the more energy a station transmits, the further its signal goes.

LPFM, LPAM, and LPTV are in various levels of use across the world, varying widely based on the laws and their enforcement.

Contents

United States

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FM radio

In the U.S., the FCC partially re-legalized LPFM licenses, after the NAB, CPB, and NPR convinced them to stop issuing the FM class D license in 1978.

The new LPFM licenses in the United States may only be issued to nonprofit educational organizations and state and local governments. Also, the one and so far only "window" for applications closed in 2003, and at present, the FCC is not entertaining any new broadcast license applications, instead conducting auctions of frequencies for full power uses only.

An example of a U.S.-based LPFM radio station is WQJJ-LP, which is owned by North Alabama Public Service Broadcasters and was applied for with the assistance of MonsterFM.com - Broadcast Technical Services, a broadcast engineering firm that specializes in such applications and was actively involved in the creation of the original LPFM rulemaking.

LPFM classes

  • Class L1 (LP100) is from 50 to 100 watts effective radiated power (ERP).
  • Class L2 (L10) is at least 1 and up to 10 watts ERP.
  • Class D is 10 watts TPO or less, regardless of ERP, and are no longer issued for LPFM services (since 1978).

Officially, class D is still assigned to broadcast translators, though the rules are actually much looser (up to 250 watts ERP) than for true LPFM stations, though they may not broadcast their own programming. This is due to the influence of NPR and religious broadcasting companies, which often rely on translators. Since true class D stations can bump translators, they therefore have less competition in getting or keeping their own translators on the air with new class D stations kept off the air.

New classes L1 and L2 are still considered amateur class D for international purposes, but are considered to be equal in status to translators, and subordinate to full class D stations still operating.


Broadcast Auxiliary-Low Power stations are authorized in the frequency band 76–88 MHz; however, such stations must remain 129 kilometers (80 miles) or more distant from any other Part 73 Broadcast Station or LPTV/TV Translator station on Channel 6 if using the 87.8 to 88.0 MHz segment of the band. [47 CFR Section 74.802.] Therefore, these particular stations authorize the use of FM Channel 200 (87.9 MHz). Such stations permit transmissions of live broadcast events. [47 CFR Section 74.831.] To qualify, you must own another broadcast station, or produce TV/motion picture programming (which, with the proliferation of online TV Webcasting, is not difficult). [47 CFR Section 74.832.] Power is limited to 50 milliwatts (1/20th of 1 watt). [47 CFR Section 74.861.] These stations are licensed through the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau online by accessing ULS. There are equipment requirements in the FCC's rules, but none are too daunting for the typical citizen with an average level of income and savings. Unusual antennas are not allowed; however, gain antennas (up to about 6 db/D gain) are permitted under the rules. The license fee is currently $135 for a 4–8 year term license. Such stations are NOT restricted to filing windows, so a qualified applicant could be licensed at any time. These stations are NOT protected from interference by other broadcast entities under Parts 73 or 74 of the FCC's rules, but ARE protected from interference by the Part 15 transmitters described below.


Part 15 rules are quite strict for FM, making it nearly impossible to operate a legally-unlicensed station that can be heard more than a few yards away. The rule is a signal strength of 250 µV/m at 3 meters from the antenna within the band 88 to 108 MHz, set forth in 47 CFR §15.239. Radiating cable antenna systems do allow for longer, if still narrow, radiated fields and are commonly used for building broadcast systems (stadiums, dormitories, apartments, etc...) with high success. Such systems are also used for specialized audiences for hearing assistance and language translation at events. Some communities have attempted to have multiple Part 15 stations align to form a sort of neighborhood "syndication" and legally increase the outreach, but it becomes impractical in light of the new technologies that allow for information to reach a wider audience more efficiently.

Legislation

Telecommunications Act of 1996

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was implemented in order to foster competition between the firms in the Telecommunications Sector including those stations of LPFM. Reed Hundt, the FCC chair at the time, said that the FCC imposed the act to encourage “diversity in programming and diversity in the viewpoints expressed on this powerful medium that so shapes our culture.” The act “mandates interconnection of telecommunications networks, unbundling, non-discrimination, and cost-based pricing of leased parts of the network.” However the act relies upon the behaviors of companies to do what is in their best interest and does not enforce punishment towards firms that do not abide by the act. Furthermore research suggests that the Act has led to “less competition, fewer viewpoints, and less diversity in programming.”

Foundation of LPFM
  • Jan. 2000: FCC established new class of stations called Low Power FM (LPFM) Stations. These stations were allowed to operate at 1–10 or 50–100 watts of power (compared to the minimum requirement for commercial stations at 6000 watts.)
  • Originally it was supported by activists, music artists (such as Bonnie Raitt), church leaders, and educators. (For example: American Library Association, Communication Workers of American labor union, National League of Cities, United Church of Christ).
  • Original purpose of LPFM, as described in J&MC Quarterly Journal, as "... Necessary to offset the growing consolidation of station ownership in the wake of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which removed caps on radio ownership, as well as the decline of locally produced radio programming." (Stavisky, Alan G., Robert K. Avery, and Helena Vanhala. "From Class D to LPFM: The High-Powered Politics of Low-Power Radio." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 78 (2001): 340–54.)
  • Main opposition came from National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The reason behind their opposition to the act was to "maintain spectrum integrity" for commercial broadcasting, according to NAB President Edward O. Fritts (Stavisky, Alan G., Robert K. Avery, and Helena Vanhala. "From Class D to LPFM: The High-Powered Politics of Low-Power Radio." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 78 (2001): 340–54.).
Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000
  • Pressure from National Association of Broadcasters urged Congress to slip the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000 into a general spending bill that circulated through Congress. In December 2000, President Clinton signed the bill, albeit reluctantly.
  • Here is a copy of the actual bill that went through Congress. [2]
  • This act was meant to tighten standards for LPFM stations, in an effort to make it harder for stations to be approved in order to protect full-power FM stations.
  1. The FCC has the ability and jurisdiction to license LPFM stations.[1]
  2. Third adjacent channel interference protections require LPFM stations to be separated by at least 0.6 MHz from all other stations with the intent of preventing signal interference.
  3. Applicants who have engaged in the unlicensed operation of any station cannot receive LPFM licenses.
  4. The FCC agreed to commission studies on the interference effects and economic impact of LPFM on full-power stations. (The findings, later published in the MITRE Corporation Report, suggest that third adjacent channel interference protections may not be necessary.)[2]
  • Basically, this act shifts policy making from the FCC to Congress, which was considered an insult against the FCC. (Stavisky, Alan G., Robert K. Avery, and Helena Vanhala. "From Class D to LPFM: The High-Powered Politics of Low-Power Radio." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 78 (2001): 340–54.)
Local Community Radio Act of 2005
  • Introduced by U.S. Senators John McCain, Maria Cantwell, Patrick Leahy
  • After the FCC complied with the provisions of the Radio Broadcasting Act of 2000 by commissioning the MITRE Report [3] to test if there was significant interference from LPFM stations on the full-power stations, the study showed that the interference of LPFM is minimal and won't have a significant effect on other stations. [4]
  • According to Sen. Leahy, "This bill will open up the airwaves to truly local broadcasting while protecting full-power broadcasters from unreasonable interference and preserving important services such as reading services for the blind." [5]
Local Community Radio Act of 2007

Sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressmen Mike Doyle and Lee Terry and in the U.S. Senate by Senators Maria Cantwell and John McCain the Local Community Radio Act of 2007 failed to be voted on. The House bill, H.R. 2802, was referred to the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on June 21, 2007.[3] Since the bill was not passed in FY 2007, the bill was removed from the docket as Never Passed.

Local Community Radio Act of 2009

This bill is an update of the Local Community Radio Act of 2007. It will require FCC to alter current rules in order to get rid of the minimum distance separation between low-power FM stations and third-adjacent channel stations.[4] Previously, there had been a minimum distance requirement, however the FCC found that LPFM stations did not cause any interference on third-adjacent channel stations, thus eliminating the need for such a requirement.[5]

The Local Community Radio Act of 2009 also requires that the FCC keep the rules that offer interference protection to third-adjacent channels that offer a radio reading service (the reading of newspapers, books or magazines for those who are blind or hearing impaired.)[6] This protection will ensure that such channels are not subject to possible interference by LPFM stations.[3]

The final part of the bill requires that when giving out licenses to FM stations, the FCC must make sure that these licenses are also available to LPFM stations and that licensing decisions are made with regard to local community needs.[7]

As of Sep. 18 2009 the bill has unanimous bipartisan support from FCC leadership.[8]

Arguments for LPFM

  • Freepress.net is a "national, nonpartisan organization working to reform the media. Through education, organizing and advocacy, we promote diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media, and universal access to communications."[9] Freepress.net supports LPFM for a variety of reasons:
    • It strengthens community identity.
    • It creates an outlet for amateur musicians to get their music heard.
    • It creates diversity on the air because women and racial minorities are represented.
    • It creates an opportunity for young people, especially college students, who are interested in radio to learn about the business.
    • It provides farmers with up to date agricultural information.
  • President Clinton is a known advocate of LPFM saying it is "giving voice to the voiceless" including schools, community groups, churches, and ethnic groups.[10]
  • An average FM station can cost a million dollars and only businesses and very wealthy people can afford it. LPFM stations are affordable. An antenna and transmitter can cost $2000–$5000.[11]

Arguments against LPFM

  • Signal Interference on FM Station: High-power FM stations express concern that LPFM stations may cause interference with their signals if third adjacent channel interference protections are not observed. While the Mitre Report suggests that the likelihood for interference is not as threatening as previously thought, high-power FM stations question the methodology, scope and validity of the study and its results.[12]
  • FM translators: These devices allow a radio station to rebroadcast its signal to reach a greater area. FM translators could benefit religious broadcasters wishing to reach a larger audience, as well as many AM radio stations who, due to ionospheric refraction, are required to emit weaker signals during the night.[13] FM translators are low-power, so compete with LPFM for limited space on the airwaves.
  • In some states, the local Department of Transportation operates large networks of LPFM stations that act as highway advisory radio stations—a service traditionally operated at the fringes of the AM band—restricting the number of available channels. (These systems can be licensed to the entire AM band, but the LPFM service provides considerably greater coverage at 100w than the 10w limit on AM—hence the considerable appeal for government agencies).
  • Some investors in radio believe LPFM services prevent the development of digital radio.[14]
  • NPR is one opponent to low power FM.. Their stance is that allowing more flexible rules for LPFM would burden other stations by forcing them to deal with interference problems and because of the fact that full power broadcasters reach a broader audience and provide a greater service, they should be favored regarding spectrum availability.[15]
  • NAB is the other major source of opposition. Their stance is that full power FM broadcasters “enhance localism” by providing community responsive information such as emergency information. Allowing low power FM stations to have equal spectrum rights could be detrimental to these necessary programs.[16]

LPFM vs. broadcast translators

Unlike the former FM class D license, an LPFM station has no priority over broadcast translators in the allocation of available spectrum. This is problematic insofar as a loophole in the regulations for broadcast translators exempts non-commercial stations from the requirement that translators be within the coverage area of the original station that they rebroadcast.

An FCC licensing window for new translator applications in 2003 resulted in over 13,000 applications being filed,[17] most of them coming from a few religious broadcasters. Although many believe that these broadcasters were exploiting a loophole allowing non-commercial stations to feed distant translators from satellite-delivered programming hundreds or even thousands of miles outside the parent station's coverage area[18], this is incorrect. Except for local fill-in translators and those located on channels 201–220, all translators on commercial frequencies must be fed by a direct, over-the-air source, regardless of who owns the translator per FCC rule 74.1231(b)[19]. One station cannot apply for hundreds or thousands of translators nationwide, using automated means to generate license applications for all available channels, unless all of their applications are exclusively on the non-commercial part of the broadcast band (88–91.9 mHz). As with any new service that shares the FM spectrum, when translators are added to an area, they can reduce or eliminate the availability of channels both for new LPFM applicants and for relocation of any existing LPFM stations displaced by full-service broadcasters.

Unlike an LPFM station, a translator is not required to (and legally not authorized to) originate any local content.

See Broadcast_relay_station#Great_Translator_Invasion_of_2003.

AM radio

LPAM is generally not licensed in the U.S., but is allowed on the campus of any school, so long as the normal Part 15 rules are adhered to when measured at the edge of the campus. Many currently licensed college radio stations started out this way. Stations may have freestanding radio antennas, or may use carrier current methods to ride on power lines. These signals cannot pass through transformers, however, and are prone to the electromagnetic interference of the alternating current. Stations may also use 'leaky' or radiating cable transmission systems. Tens of thousands of these stations have been in operation around the country since the 1940s, and many continue to thrive where conventional licensing is unavailable and the operators still desire to conform to Federal laws.

The exception is Travelers' Information Stations (TIS), sometimes also called highway advisory radio (HAR). These are licensed LPAM stations set up by local transport departments to provide bulletins to motorists and other travelers regarding traffic and other delays. These are often near highways and airports, and occasionally other tourism attractions such as national parks. Only governments may have licenses for TIS/HAR stations, and music is disallowed. These operate under FCC Part 90.242 and may be licensed by quasi-governmental agencies as well (many are used by chemical and nuclear facilities for emergency evacuation information systems) as well as by public safety entities for mobile operations.

Television

LPTV (-LP) is common in the U.S., Canada and most of the Americas where most stations originate their own programming. Stations that do not originate their own programming are designated as translators (-TX). The Community Broadcasters act of 1998 directed the FCC to create classification of LPTV licenses called Class A (-CA).

The LPTV service is considered a secondary service by the FCC, which means the licensee is not guaranteed protection from interference or displacement. An LPTV station must accept harmful interference from full-service television stations and may not cause harmful interference to any full-service television station. (The FCC defines what interference levels are deemed to be "harmful".) The problem with potential displacement was made evident during the transition of broadcasting in the United States from analog to digital. All television stations operating on channels 52 and above were required to move to channel 51 or below. Full-service stations were guaranteed a place to land in the new compressed band while LPTV stations operating on channels 52 and above were forced to find their own channel to move to. If a station was not able to find a displacement channel it runs the risk of losing its license.

Class A LPTV Stations

The FCC provided for a one-time filing opportunity for existing LPTV stations to become Class A stations. The designation was available only to those LPTV stations that were producing two hours per week of local programming. Class A status provides for protected channel status and Class A stations are required to produce two hours per week of local programming, maintain a production studio within their Grade B contour, and comply with many of the requirements placed on full-service television stations.

Must-Carry

One of the key distinctions between full-service television stations and low-power stations is cable and DBS (Direct Broadcast Satellite) carriage. Full-service stations are guaranteed carriage in their local DMA through "must-carry" and LPTV stations are not. In 2008 there was an effort put forward by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to grant must-carry rights to Class A LPTV stations. The effort failed due to a lack of support from the other FCC Commissioners.

Network Affiliates

Though many low-power TV stations are either unaffiliated, or broadcast programming from small networks meant for their use, some LPTV stations are affiliated with major broadcast networks like Fox, The CW or My Network TV. Examples include in Youngstown, Ohio, where a pair of LPTV stations based at WYFX broadcast Fox programming, along with the digital subchannel of the co-owned CBS affiliate, WKBN-TV.

Digital Transition

The FCC has not set a date (as of November, 2008) whereby LPTV stations are required to convert to digital broadcasting. Therefore LPTV stations are exempt from the June 12th, 2009 deadline to cease analog transmissions. The FCC did open a filing window for existing LPTV stations to file for a secondary digital channel to operate in parallel of its analog channel.

Unlike FM and AM, unlicensed use of TV bands is prohibited for broadcasting. The amateur television channels do allow for some very limited non-entertainment transmissions however, with some repeaters airing NASA TV during Space Shuttle missions when they are not in local use.

The Low Power Television industry was represented by the Community Broadcasters Association (CBA), which held its annual convention each year in October and an annual meeting each year in April at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention in Las Vegas. The meeting was always held on Monday night of the NAB convention in Ballroom B of the Las Vegas Hilton and was open to anyone interested in the Low Power Television industry. On August 13, 2009, the CBA announced in a statement that it would shut down after 20 years of representing LPTV stations. One reason given was the "restrictive regulations that kept the Class A and LPTV industry from realizing its potential". Another was the inability to reach most viewers, partly due to Multichannel Video Programming Distributors refusing to carry these channels. The recession was another factor. Amy Brown, former CBA executive director, said, "some 40% of Class A and LPTV station operators believe they will have to shut down in the next year if they are not helped through the digital transition."[20]

United Kingdom

Temporary low-power stations are allowed at times via a Restricted Service Licence.

Since 2001 longterm LPFM licences have been available in remote areas of the country. These are currently used for many establishments including military bases, universities and hospitals with fixed boundaries.

New Zealand

In New Zealand residents are allowed to broadcast licence free at 0.5 watts EIRP in the FM guardbands from 88.1 to 88.7 (or 88.1 to 88.4 within 120 km of the Sky Tower in Auckland) and from 106.7 to 107.7 MHz under a General User Radio License (GURL) issued by Radio Spectrum Management. Broadcasters on these frequencies are required to cease operations if they interfere with other, licensed broadcasters and have no protection from interference from other licensed or unlicensed broadcasters. There exists a 25 km rule: You may operate two transmitters anywhere (close together), but a third transmitter must be 25 km away.

There are efforts on self-regulation of the broadcasters themselves.

Opinions

J. H. Snider and Lawrence Lessig say that low power "smart" radio is inherently superior to standard broadcast radio.

"Technologists are increasingly discussing a related kind of gain called 'cooperation gain.' ... think about a party. If I need to tell you that it's time to leave, I could choose to shout that message across the room. Shouting, however, is rude. So instead, imagine I choose to whisper my message to the person standing next to me, and he whispered it to the next person, and she to the next person, and so on. This series of whispers could get my message across the room without forcing me to shout." — "Wireless Spectrum: Defining the 'Commons'" by Lawrence Lessig 2003 (mirror)

"if nodes repeat each other's traffic. If I want to talk to someone across the room, I don't have to shout. I can just whisper it to someone near me, who can pass it on, and so on. ... as we add more transmitters, the total capacity goes up slightly, but we still have to face the fact that each transmitter's capacity goes down (just slower). Even better, we all end up using less energy (since we don't have to transmit as far), saving battery life." — Open Spectrum: A Global Pervasive Network by Aaron Swartz

"Every time a broadcaster receives a license, the amount of available spectrum goes down. ... New technology, however, increases bandwidth with the number of users." — "Why Open Spectrum Matters: The End of the Broadcast Nation" by David Weinberger

"If we lose ... open spectrum, we're also going to lose the open Internet" — "The war against open spectrum" by Dana Blankenhorn 2007

See also

References

  1. ^ GovTrack.us. (1999) “H.R. 3439 [106th]: Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000.” ‘‘GovTrack.us.’’ Retrieved February 12, 2008, from http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h106-3439&tab=summary
  2. ^ Radio Magazine. (2004, March 1) “FCC Reports LPFM Interference Findings to Congress.” ‘‘Radio Magazine.’’ Retrieved March 3, 2008, from http://www.mediaaccess.org/programs/lpfm/RADIOmagazine.pdf
  3. ^ a b GovTrack.us. (2007) “H.R. 2802: Local Community Radio Act of 2007.” ‘’GovTrack.us.’’ Retrieved February 12, 2008, from http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h110-2802
  4. ^ WashingtonWatch.com. (2009) "H.R. 1147, The Local Community Radio Act of 2009." "WashingtonWatch.com." Retrieved May 23, 2009, from http://www.washingtonwatch.com/bills/show/111_HR_1147.html#toc2
  5. ^ RADIO magazine - The Radio Technology Leader. (2004) "FCC Reports LPFM Interference Findings to Congress." "Media Access Project." Retrieved May 24, 2009, from http://www.mediaaccess.org/programs/lpfm/RADIOmagazine.pdf
  6. ^ KPBS Radio Reading Service. "About." "KPBS." Retrieved May 23, 2009, from http://kpbsreadingservice.org
  7. ^ WashingtonWatch.com. (2009) "H.R. 1147, The Local Community Radio Act of 2009." "WashingtonWatch.com." Retrieved May 23, 2009, from http://www.washingtonwatch.com/bills/show/111_HR_1147.html#toc2)
  8. ^ United States Congress (September 18, 2009). "FCC: Unanimous, bipartisan support for LPFM". [[Free Press (organization)|]]. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQ4TC9Aqjfc.  
  9. ^ Free Press. (2008) “Local Radio Now.” Free Press. Retrieved February 12, 2008, from http://www.freepress.net/lpfm/
  10. ^ Janssen, Mike. (2001, January 15) “Intervention by Congress slashes LPFM licensing 80%.” Current. Retrieved February 11, 2008, from http://www.current.org/tech/tech0101lpfm.html
  11. ^ HowStuffWorks. (2000) “What is low-power FM LPFM?” HowStuffWorks. Retrieved February 12, 2008, from http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/question330.htm
  12. ^ National Association of Broadcasters. (2003, October 20) “LPFM Report Fatally Flawed.” ‘‘Radio TechCheck.’’ Retrieved March 6, 2008, from http://www.nab.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Search&template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=4666
  13. ^ Whittaker, Ron Ph. D. (2007, June 14) “AM FM Waves and Sound.” ‘’Elements of Mass Communication.’’ Retrieved February 12, 2008, from http://www.cybercollege.com/frtv/frtv017.htm
  14. ^ "Factsheets." Retrieved May 29, 2008 from http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Mass_Media/Factsheets?lpfmfact032900.html
  15. ^ Current, Karen E. (2008, May 21) "Once Again NPR Opposes Expansion of Low-Powers FM." Retrieved May 30, 2008, from http://www.reclaimthemedia.org/grassroots_media/once_again_npr_opposes_expansi%3D5996
  16. ^ MacBride, Marsha J., Jerianne Timmerman, & Ann W. Bobeck. (2005, August 22) "Before the FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION-Comments of the National Association of Broadcasters." Retrieved May 30, 2008, from http://www.nab.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Search§ion=20055&template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentFileID=367
  17. ^ RadioWorld.com - RW Special Report
  18. ^ mediageek: Another Kind of Low-Power Station Hogging Radio Spectrum
  19. ^ [1]
  20. ^ "Community Broadcasters Association to Shutter". Broadcasting & Cable. 2009-08-13. http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/327560-Community_Broadcasters_Association_to_Shutter.php?rssid=20068&q=digital+tv. Retrieved 2009-08-14.  

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