In a filing this week, IPR supported efforts by a group of community radio applicants that hope to create a low power radio station for a historic neighborhood in Philadelphia.
The applicants, three non-profit organizations from Germantown, Philadelphia, have applied for licenses to operate low power FM (LPFM) radio stations. LPFM stations are community-based, non-commercial stations that have a broadcast radius of about 3 miles, allowing licensees to serve their local communities.
The three organizations IPR assisted – Germantown United, Germantown Life Enrichment Center, and G-town Radio – applied for their LPFM licenses in the fall of 2013 after the Federal Communications Commission opened a window seeking new licensees. Just under 3,000 groups across the country applied for radio licenses, but because space on the FM dial is limited, competition for stations was expected to be fierce. To resolve competing license applications, the Commission created a point system and encouraged applicants that were tied to try to share air time. Groups that agreed to share air time could then aggregate their points and claim the radio license for a particular channel.
Recognizing that only a handful of channels were available on the FM dial in Philadelphia, the three groups each filed separate applications and discussed potentially sharing time at a later date to create a radio station dedicated to serving Germantown. Germantown is a 3.3 square-mile area located in Northwest Philadelphia that is one of the most historically iconic areas in all of the United States; it was the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement and the site of a battle in the American Revolution.
Four other groups from Philadelphia also applied for the same radio channel as the Germantown groups. Because all the groups had the same number of points under the Commission’s rules, they had to negotiate whether they could share air time. As those negotiations were underway, two of the other groups filed challenges to the Germantown groups’ applications – called petitions to deny – to try to prevent the Germantown applicants from receiving a license.
In the petitions to deny, The Social Justice Law Project of the Philadelphia NAACP, Inc. and Nueva Esperanza, Inc. argued that the Germantown applicants violated Commission rules by tentatively agreeing to work together before applying for LPFM licenses and by failing to disclose overlapping board membership between organizations..
IPR filed an opposition to the petitions on behalf of the Germantown groups demonstrating that they did nothing wrong in trying to secure a radio license for their community. As the opposition describes, the Commission had encouraged local organizations to work together in advance of the application window and endorsed resource sharing, including applicants agreeing to share broadcast studio locations. Additionally, the opposition refuted allegations of improper board member commonality.
Moreover, the opposition showed that many of the factual and legal claims made in the petition were without merit. Each of the Germantown Applicants is an independent non-profit organization with distinct a local mission. Although they each have separate missions, the groups applied for LPFM licenses in the hope of providing educational programming about Germantown’s unique history and culture. The groups all followed FCC rules in applying for licenses.
The FCC must now decide whether to grant or deny the petitions. Should the FCC deny the petitions, the Germantown organizations will have taken an important step toward obtaining an LPFM license and airing programming about Germantown.
Georgetown Law student Dan Syed helped draft this post.