On January 20, 2000, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized new, non-commercial Low Power FM (LPFM) broadcast stations throughout the FM band at powers of up to 100 watts. Using a 30 meter (100 foot) mast, high quality coverage is possible over a 7 to 12 mile diameter, according to terrain and the strength of competing FM stations.
Transportation agencies were given priority over education, church and community group applicants in that, for example, they could apply for many licenses within a state. However, all applications had to be made within a very narrow time window of June 11 to 15, 2001 . Once granted, the licenses are good for eight years.
The new LPFM service provided a unique opportunity to get rural roadway, weather and tourism ITS information into every car and truck at a reasonable cost. FM offers high quality reception and other benefits over traditional AM Highway Advisory Radio. LPFM is affordable, at about $12,000 per station for the broadcasting equipment. However, many LPFM sites -perhaps over a hundred – may ideally have been needed to cover a single state
ITS proponents may have felt that the LPFM concept was relatively ‘low tech’. Advanced Traveler Information Systems (ATIS) technologies using digital traffic messages had been proposed for over fifteen years, without reaching the marketplace. Instead of waiting for ATIS digital systems, LPFM required nothing more than the car radio already found in every vehicle, albeit served with content using the latest MP3 technologies.
While LPFM avoided the critical mass problem that has frustrated ATIS, LPFM can still take advantage of future ATIS sub-carrier systems. Sub-carrier data could be added to LPFM to carry digital traffic messages right into vehicles. And while sub-carrier data rates could be quite low, the cellular design of LPFM meant that local data could get priority. The same Internet connections to LPFM stations that carry MP3 also support digital traffic message services.
There were however, several challenges which need to be addressed before successful implementation and deployment could occur. The project took the following approach:
Task 1 – Develop recommended alternative for each site with opposing applications.
Although the FCC has given priority to transportation agencies over education, community and church groups, there were cases where agencies are competing for air space. Task one suggested and developed methods for creating a mixed use air space which would allow for traveler information messages to be spliced with either education, community or church group program content.
Task 2 – Begin negotiations for space sharing on cell and radio towers
LPFM service is capable of operating from a transmitter attached to a cell or radio tower. Institutional negotiations occurred to determine the cost of installation, rental fees and other issues which may arise in the future.
Task 3 – Preparing for equipment deployment
Task three identified the necessary equipment for a single, state or county wide LPFM operation. The equipment included the following:
- Fix signs with flashing beacon;
- Software Integration (CARS, Foretell, MP3)
- Radio Data System Technologies
Task 4 – Develop LPFM content and quality control
Task four developed traveler information content to be disseminated to motorists such as road and weather conditions, timing of recorded sequences and sponsorship messages and the format that message sets were developed and disseminated.
Task 5 – Begin sponsorship negotiations
Private sponsorship was well established in public broadcasting. Since March 1984, FCC had allowed public broadcasters to carry sponsors’ information such as (1) slogans or ‘logograms’ which identify rather than promote, (2) location information, (3) value-neutral descriptions of product lines or services, and (4) brand names, trade names and product/service listings. In the context of LPFM, such business sponsorship can not only fund vital public safety information, it also helps travelers find out the facts on local services and visitor attractions.
Task five identified the role of sponsors and the format of the sponsorship messages. Furthermore negotiations with sponsors reviewed issues such as maintaining and updating message content.
A document recommending best practice approach for LPFM implementation and deployment.