WASHINGTON — FCC commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to move ahead with streamlining the agency’s process for resolving competing noncommercial radio applications.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, approved during an open meeting at FCC headquarters, would also give prospective low-power FM broadcasters more time to get stations on the air by extending LPFM construction permits from 18 months to three years. In addition, it would allow LPFM operators to reassign and transfer their permits after 18 months.
“Essentially, we’re aiming to provide greater clarity to broadcast applicants and thus make the process easier for them, deliver more new services to the listening public, and reduce appeals of our comparative licensing decisions,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said before calling a vote on the rulemaking.
One part of the rulemaking proposes to tweak a point system the FCC uses to resolve competing applications. If would-be broadcasters are vying for the same frequency, the commission awards points to applicants based on criteria such as localism and whether they own other stations in the proposed broadcast area.
The rules governing that process “are needlessly complex,” Pai said, and “can trip up well-intentioned but inexperienced applicants seeking to bring new radio service to their communities.”
For example, a noncommercial applicant wanting to claim points for localism and diversity of ownership is now required to amend its governing documents with pledges to maintain those qualifications. That has harmed some applicants who failed to properly amend their documents, Pai said.
“This is one of those good-government items that won’t generate many headlines but, if adopted, will mean less paperwork and less litigation for broadcasters and more time spent on the air providing content to the American public,” said Commissioner Brendan Carr.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel used her remarks to recall her visit to KOCZ, a LPFM station in Opelousas, La., that is dedicated to zydeco. The style of music is native to southwest Louisiana but given scant airtime on commercial radio in the area, she said.
“I hope that this effort leads to many more local stations like KOCZ that give voice to the history of sounds and stories that make communities across this country unique,” she said.
Members of the public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rulemaking after its publication in the Federal Register.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that LPFM applicants wanting to claim points for localism and diversity of ownership are required to amend their governing documents with pledges to maintain those qualifications. Full-service noncommercial applicants must meet this requirement, not LPFMs.