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Low Power FM Radio Service: Regulatory and Congressional Issues

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Publication Date: January 2001

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL30462

Topic: Media, telecommunications, and information (Radio)


In response to thousands of inquiries annually from individuals and groups wishing to start a low power radio station for broadcasting to local communities, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has adopted rules for a new, low power FM radio (LPFM) service. The service consists of two classes of LPFM radio stations with maximum power levels of 10 watts and 100 watts. The rules contain interference protection criteria to help ensure that the LPFM service protects and preserves the technical integrity of existing radio service. However, the main arguments against LPFM are based on concerns over interference with existing FM radio broadcasts, and the potential that LPFM might impede the future transition to digital audio broadcasting.

Some Members are seeking to severely scale back or nullify the FCC's decision to issue LPFM licenses, while other Members support the FCC ruling. On April 14, 2000 the House passed the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000 (H.R. 3439, amended), which would have the effect of eliminating about 75% of the number of potential LPFM licenses that could be granted by preventing licenses in the third adjacent channel to incumbent full-power FM broadcasters. Three bills have been introduced in the Senate: S. 2068 would prohibit the FCC from authorizing LPFM licenses; S. 2518 (later introduced in modified form as S. 2989) would permit the introduction of LPFM licenses while studying whether LPFM is causing harmful interference to full-power broadcasters; and S. 3020 is similar to the House-passed bill. Language similar to the House-passed bill was inserted into the FY 2001 District of Columbia Appropriations bill (H.R. 5547), which was incorporated in the Commerce, Justice, and State Appropriations bill (H.R. 4942) that passed Congress on December 15, 2000 (Conf. Rept. 106-1005), and signed into law (P.L.106-553) on December 21, 2000. This report will be updated as necessary.