Low Power Protection Act passes committee as NAB, LPTV group disagree on bill

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The Low Power Protection Act has passed the Senate Commerce Committee — a move that has been praised by NAB but condemned by the LPTV Broadcasters Association.

The act, which still needs to complete the normal process for laws, is meant to strengthen spectrum rights for certain lower power stations, which are frequently important for serving rural communities, according to supporters.

LPPA stems from the 1999 Community Broadcaster Protection Act, which was meant to protect LPTV stations from harmful signal interference or displacement during the transition from analog to digital broadcasting. This created the “Class A” station status and created a one-time filling window for stations to apply for those licenses.

CBPA dictated that Class A licensees be subject to the same license terms and renewal standards as full-power TV licensees. It also meant that Class A stations would still be considered as having “primary” status as long as they continued to meet requirements outlined in the law.

LPPA would create another opportunity for low power stations to apply for Class A status, which proponents say would prevent these stations from being bumped off the air by harmful interference. That, in turn, could lead to better local content, say supporters.

The National Association of Broadcasters has emerged as a key supporter of the LPPA as written.

“This legislation offers a long-overdue opportunity for low power television stations operating in the smallest and mostly rural markets to gain Class A status and ensure their continued service into the future. Providing important interference protections will allow these broadcasters to better serve their millions of viewers by hiring more journalists, investing in new equipment and transitioning to the ATSC 3.0 (NextGen TV) standard,” NAB wrote in a statement.

However, the LPTV Broadcasters Association opposes the current act’s provisions and wants a different version that it says will better serve LPTV stations.

The association says the law, as written, would “severely” limit the number of stations that could apply for Class A station status, mainly because of language that limits such applications to DMAs with under 95,000 households.

The group is calling for the rules in the act to be applied more broadly across all geographic areas and argues that rural LPTV stations are “generally the least in need of protection” given that they are less likely to have signal interference from nearby markets.

In an analysis of stations in the home states of senators on the committee, the group says that only 95 of the 1,055 low power stations in those states would be eligible to apply for Class A standing under the new law’s provisions.

The LPTV Broadcasters Association also says that, because of this limited number of stations eligible for application, the ability for smaller station owners, including ones owned by minorities, veterans and those living with disabilities, to acquire funding to build or expand their stations would be limited because most financial institutions do not consider a low power license to be collateral, whereas Class A and full-power licenses are.