RM-9208, RM-9242 and RM-9246

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In the late 1990s, three separate Petitions for Rulemaking were filed with the FCC which would become the catalyst for today's Low Power FM (LPFM) radio service.

RM-9208 was written by Nickolaus E. Leggett and Donald J. Schellhardt proposed a community and neighborhood broadcast service through the creation of one watt "microstations" in the AM and FM broadcast bands.

RM-9242 was written by Rodger Skinner which featured a comprehensive plan for primary, secondary and temporary special event radio stations operating between one and 3,000 watts.

RM-9246 was written by Web SportsNet, Inc. which proposed the use of low power FM broadcast transmitters for special events and sports venue broadcasting.

The Leggett/Schellhardt proposal (RM-9208)

The Microradio concept

The original petition which was received by the FCC on July 17, 1997 proposed amendments to the rules to permit "microstations" on the AM and FM broadcast bands. The microstation would serve an area of one to several square miles to service a single small municipality or a very small neighborhood of a larger municipality. According to the petition, the microradio broadcast service would provide an opportunity for individual citizens and small groups of citizens to operate radio broadcast services and would expand the variety of subjects and types of entertainment presented. New musical groups could present their music society and new social and political options could be discussed.

The concept called for one AM and one FM channel be set aside for microbroadcasting. Each station would serve a specific geographic location (referred to as a "cell"). Microstations would be one watt, use nondirectional vertical antennas no more than 50 feet above ground level. Licenses would be issued for a 5 year term and have a flat regulatory fee of $50. Transmitters did not have to be type accepted and can be built from kits.

in a subsequent filing in March 1998, Leggett and Schellhardt stated that microstations should not be licensed to larger corporations and that multiple microbroadcasters should be permitted to share a frequency and that perhaps power ceilings greater than one watt should be considered. The petitioners opposed the concept of a noncommercial only service and that some licenses should be set aside for race-based and gender-based groups.

During this proceeding, Leggett and Schellhardt sent each of the FCC Commissioners a videocassette of "Pump Up The Volume", a 1990 film about a fictional pirate radio station operator.

The "cease fire" demand letter

In April 1998, Leggett and Schellhardt wrote "special comments" in the proceeding claiming that prosecutions of microbroadcasters should be halted and that retroactive amnesty be provided to those who would likely be able to be licensed as a low power FM broadcaster citing the case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that blocked a proposed injunction against pirate radio broadcasts being made by Stephen Dunifer.[1]

The "Two-Tier" System

The Leggett/Schellhardt "two-tier" system claimed to be based on consultations with members of the microbroadcast community.[2] It called for each tier to have its own dedicated AM and FM channel and instead of type acceptance for transmitters, they proposed that "people" by authorized by requiring a station's technical operation to be supervised by a person holding an amateur radio service license or a General Radio Operators License.

Tier One - neighborhood stations

Tier One would be "neighborhood stations" that would be limited to a transmission radius of one mile or the number of miles to reach the farthest boundary of the nearest community of 500 people or more. Power levels were not specified other than it should be a "single digit wattage" (double digits in rural areas). A basic (low-cost) engineering study is required and type acceptance is not required due to the low powers.

Tier Two - community stations

Tier Two would be "community stations" with a transmission radius of 5 miles. Like with Tier One, no specific power level was proposed, but recommended that it would be in the "double digits".

The Skinner proposal (RM-9242)

The Skinner proposal, which was filed under the auspices of this company TRA Communications Consultants, Inc. was a very comprehensive plan that created three tiers of LPFM stations. As being very active in the Low Power Television (LPTV) industry at the time, Skinner's vision of LPFM was that of a commercial service built along the same regulatory structure as the LPTV service. Like with RM-9208, Skinner also promoted his petition as a solution to the upsurge of pirate radio stations following the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.[3] The petition called for the use of filing windows as opposed to a table of allotments[4], which is used in the full-service and to use a lottery as opposed to auctions to settle mutual exclusivity.[5]

LPFM-1 primary service stations

Under the Skinner proposal, the LPFM-1 class of service would be a primary service with a maximum facility of 3 kW ERP at 100 meters height above average terrain with an effective service contour of 24.2 kilometers. This would be similar to the old Class A service before it was upgraded to 6 kW. Minimum facility would be 50 watts.[6] LPFM-1 stations would be subject to a majority of the Part 73 rules and requires a local ownership, which is defined as within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the station.[7]

LPFM-2 secondary service stations

LPFM-2 would be secondary service permitting ERPs between 1 and 50 watts at 100 meters HAAT with an effective service contour of 8.7 kilometers.[8] LPFM-2 stations facing displacement from other LPFM-1 stations would be given 60 days to be able to apply to upgrade to the LPFM-1 service if available in the area.[9]

LPFM-3 temporary special event stations

LPFM-3 was designated for LPFM facilities for temporary special events lasting no longer than 10 days. The service was proposed as 20 watts ERP at 100 meters HAAT with an effective service contour of 6.9 kilometers.[10]

Protection methods

The Skinner proposal called for the use of contours for co-channel and first-adjcent channel and without the need to protect second or third-adjacent channels or intermediate frequency channels "due to vast improvements in receiver technology since these restrictions were created several years ago".[11]

The Web SportsNet proposal (RM-9246)

The Web SportsNet proposal called for low power FM facilities to be used for temporary special event broadcasting and more permanent stations for venues such as sports venues and even airport terminals. While the technical concepts are not as comprehensive as the RM-9246 proposal, it does suggest power levels between 1 to 10 watts, using Channel 200 (87.9 MHz) where it is available and does not interfere with Channel 6 TV broadcast stations and channels would be assigned through a frequency coordinator. The petition cites and gives examples of past FCC experimental broadcast actions where low power FM facilities were temporarily authorized for large scale special events.

Comments received in these proceedings

Comments in support

Comments in support of the concept of LPFM broadcasting were received mainly by members of the community as well as from community organizations, civil rights organizations and media justice organizations. Commenters discussed how, because of the lifting of broadcast ownership caps in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, that consolidation of radio stations, especially by Clear Channel Communications, now iHeart Media has reduced the diversity and uniqueness of local radio broadcasting through the use of "national playlists" and consolidated operations. They would state that many local neighborhoods, ethnic groups and other special interests deserve to have their own voice. Some supporters of the LPFM concept state that the service can be easily implemented through permitting existing FM Translator stations to be able to originate programming.[12]

Comments in opposition

Very strong opposition to the concept of LPFM broadcasting came from incumbent broadcast owners, the state broadcasters associations and from national interests such as the National Association of Broadcasters, National Public Radio and Educational Media Foundation. Comments opposing LPFM were mainly along the lines of concerns over increased interference in the band, potential displacement of existing stations in order to create dedicated channels like what was proposed in RM-9208, economic impacts to incumbent broadcasters, especially AM daytime stations and will impede the development of In Band On Channel (IBOC) digital audio broadcasting, now known as HD Radio. Some of the opposing comments stated that LPFM stations were inefficient use of spectrum citing the 1978 Commission actions that froze the assignment of new 10-watt Class D radio stations in all areas except Alaska as a recognition by the Commission that higher powered FM stations are a more efficient use of the spectrum.

Other LPFM concepts suggested

While some organizations supported the concept of LPFM, they opposed certain technical elements of the petitions that were already filed. There were also opposing comments filed by petitioners towards the other petition's concept. Some of the concepts for a new LPFM service from organizations other than the petitioners are shown here:

The Committee on Democratic Communications/National Lawyers Guild Concept

The CDC/NLG concept called for a noncommercial service with only one station per owner and stations shall be locally programmed. Stations would be limited to 50 watts in urban areas and 100 watts in rural areas (no HAAT standard was provided) with the ability to also use 87.5, 87.7 and 87.9 MHz. Microstations would be "registered" with the FCC with a filing fee and would use a "voluntary body set up by the local or regional micropower broadcast community to oversee micropower stations". Equipment shall meet basic technical criteria in respect to stability, filtering, modulation control, etc. Registrations shall last for 5 years and there should be no "public service" requirements imposed by the FCC. Microbroadcasting of special events (demonstrations, raillies, festivals and concerts) do not need to be registered but are encouraged to meet all technical requirements.

The REC Networks Concept

First concept

REC's first concept as mentioned in comments in RM-9208 called for the creation of a low-power AM (LPAM) service using the expanded AM band (1620~1700 kHz) as a first choice before selection of standard AM band channels (540~1600 kHz), 1610 kHz was excluded due to travelers information stations. On FM, REC disagreed with the RM-9208 single frequency concept and proposed that any channel could be used, as well as 87.5, 87.7 and 87.9, where available in respect to Channel 6 TV stations. On FM, the REC concept would resurrect the old Class D FM service with a 10 watt transmitter power output and no limit on ERP. A new Class E would be established with a limitation of 1 watt. LPAM stations would be limited to 5 watts in the 1620~1700 kHz band and up to 1 watt in the 540~1600 kHz band. Transmitters do not have to be type accepted and stations must be supervised by a holder of an amateur radio service license of General class or higher or the holder of a General Radiotelephone Operators License. Antennas should be limited to vertical polarization at no higher than 60 feet above ground. HAAT above 100 meters would have ERPs adjusted to compensate. The service could be commercial with a $150 filing fee. Class D stations must be equipped with EAS decoders but encoding is not necessary.

Second concept

Several months later, REC released a second concept which called for an expansion of the FM broadcast band to include the spectrum currently used by TV channel 6 in order to create 30 additional channels between 82.1~87.9 MHz. The two Channel 6 TV stations at the time in New Haven, CT and Juneau, AK would be allocated to different channels. Primary status for stations on 82.1~87.9 MHz. Establish the ability for travelers information stations in the expanded FM band. Use frequency coordinators instead of distance separation requirements for the extended FM band. The second concept does not mention LPAM stations.

Proceeding timeline

  • February 5, 1998, the FCC put RM-9208 on Public Notice which opened a 30 day comment period.[13]
  • March 5, 1998, the FCC would extend the comment period on RM-9208 by nearly two months.[14]
  • March 10, 1998, the FCC put RM-9242 on Public Notice which opened a 30 day comment period.[15]
  • March 18, 1998, the FCC put RM-9246 on Public Notice which opened a 30 day comment period.[16]
  • May 22, 1998, the FCC would extend the reply comment period on RM-9208, RM-9242 and RM-9246 (event broadcasting) for a period of two months.[17]
  • January 28, 1999, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in MB Docket 99-25 to create a Low Power Radio Service.