The ACMA

Radiocomms licensing

Apparatus licences

Low power open narrowcasting (LPON)

Low power open narrowcasting (LPON) services are used to provide broadcasting services to a limited reception area, or for niche broadcasting services such as tourism, information services and language services. This page describes the use and conditions of LPON licences.

LPON services operate on very low power and their range is much more limited than other radio broadcasting services. This may mean that an LPON service may only be receivable in a portion of its potential coverage area. This reality is reflected in the cost of obtaining an LPON licence.

About LPON services

The ACMA's spectrum plans assume that LPON services are secondary to the provision of long term, higher power community, national, commercial or high power open narrowcasting services made available in Licence Area Plans (LAPs).

An LPON service must not be operated as a commercial or community radio broadcasting service. There are penalties for providing a commercial or community radio broadcasting service without an appropriate licence. For example, if a person is successfully prosecuted for providing a commercial radio service without an appropriate licence, the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 has penalties of up to $200,000.

As the name suggests, an LPON service must fit the definition of open narrowcasting. Before purchasing an LPON transmitter licence, you may wish to obtain a Section 21 opinion from the ACMA about whether your proposed service is categorised as narrowcasting.

If you wish to provide a networked open narrowcasting service (defined as two or more HPONs or LPONs in any combination providing substantially the same programming), you must give the ACMA a statement, in an approved form (ACMA B61), explaining how reception of your service is limited in a way described in paragraph 18(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (which sets out the criteria for open narrowcasting services). This statement is required not later than 30 days after the service is first provided. For more information, refer to the Broadcasting Services (Additional Conditions - Open Narrowcasting Radio Services) Notice 2002.

If you do not comply with licence conditions, the ACMA may take regulatory action under the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act). The ACMA has adopted a graduated regulatory approach. Regulatory action can include warning notices, fines, suspension or cancellation of your licence, or prosecution.

For more information on open and subscription narrowcasting radio services, please refer to our guidelines on Narrowcasting for Radio.

Limitations on LPON services

Limited reception

The reception of LPON services is always limited in some way. For example, reception may be limited because the program content is targeted to special interest groups, or the services are intended for limited locations.

Available frequencies

The availability of LPON services is limited to the FM frequencies centred on 87.6 MHz, 87.8 MHz and 88.0 MHz.

There are a small number of licensed LPON services operating between 88.1 MHz and 108.0 MHz of the broadcasting services bands (BSB). These services were planned by the former Australian Broadcasting Authority and it is unlikely that any more LPON licences will be made available in the BSB.

If you are interested in seeing current licensed LPON services please search our online Register of Radiocommunications Licences.

LPON services operating in the BSB are subject to the same licence conditions as the LPON services operating on 87.6–88.0 MHz. However, because these services are within the BSB, the following also applies:

  1. the availability of spectrum is made on a case-by-case basis
  2. the ACMA may consider moving an existing LPON to an alternative frequency to make way for radio services planned in a LAP
  3. the ACMA is not obliged to find replacement spectrum for LPON licences.

Review of the operation of LPON services

In February 2013 the ACMA released a public consultation paper which canvassed possible amendments to the LPON regime. One of the outcomes of this review is the consolidation of LPONs operating between 88.1 MHz and 108.0 MHz (the in-band) into the standard 87.5 MHz – 88.0 MHz band (the sub-band).

The circumstances which led to most LPONs being allocated in the in-band, were due to exclusion zones in force around analog channel 3 TV transmitters. These exclusion zones are no onger applicable.

With the exception of cases where there are no sub-band frequencies available in an area, LPON licensees were required to transition to sub-band frequencies by 31 March 2016.

In some areas, LPON frequencies are restricted because of the need to protect existing and planned FM radio services on 88.1 MHz and 88.3 MHz and the sub-band frequencies to be made available for the in-band licensees. Table 1 of the Planning Model lists the unencumbered sub-band frequencies and transmitter sites that are to be protected for the in-band licensees to transition. Table 2 of the Planning Model defines the exclusion zones for LPON services to protect FM broadcasting services on 88.1 MHz and 88.3 MHz. These exclusion zone boundaries are available in Shapefile format (ZIP, 6 MB) suitable for use in Geographic Information System (GIS) software, and as a Google Earth placemark (KMZ, 1 MB).

A list of existing LPON services that are permitted to operate within the defined exclusion zones is available for download here. If a licence for an LPON transmitter in this list is cancelled due to contravention of licence conditions, no new licences will be allocated at that site.

Power and coverage limitations

The operating power for LPON services is limited to a maximum of 1 watt transmitter power in residential areas and 10 watts in non-residential areas.

LPON licensees must comply with the received signal field strength levels set for LPON services. The received signal field strength must not exceed 48 decibels above one microvolt per metre at 2 km from the LPON transmitter site in residential areas or at 10 km from the LPON transmitter site in non-residential areas. To meet the field strength limitations of the licence conditions, you will be expected to reduce the transmitter power accordingly.

The intended coverage area of LPON services is also limited. LPON services operating in residential areas may cover an area within a 2 km radius of the transmitter site. For LPONs operating in non-residential areas, the coverage area may be within a radius of 10 km from the transmitter site.

Limited protection from interference

LPON services have no guarantee against interference from mainstream broadcasting services planned in a LAP. On the other hand, within its licence area, a mainstream broadcasting service is protected against interference from LPON services.

No security of tenure

LPON licences are made available on a 'buyer beware' basis and have no guaranteed tenure of radiofrequency spectrum. If spectrum is required by the ACMA for any reason, such as to plan new mainstream broadcasting services or to vary the conditions of existing mainstream broadcasting services, affected LPON spectrum may be resumed by the ACMA (without compensation), and there is no obligation to find replacement spectrum.

Minimum separation distance requirements

To minimise interference between LPON services using the same or an adjacent frequency, LPON services are restricted to the minimum separation distance requirements in the following table:

LPON carrier frequency separation
(kHz)

Required protection
ratio in decibels
(dB)

Separation distance
between
1 W LPON transmitters
in kilometres (km)

Separation distance
between
10 W LPON transmitters
(km)

Separation distance
between
1 W and
10 W LPON transmitters
(km)

0

45

10

30

20

200

27

5

15

10

400

-18

0

0

0

'Use it or lose it' condition

On 22 December 2000, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts provided the ACMA with directions instructing it to impose 'use it or lose it' conditions on all LPON services that operate in the sub-band (87.5–88.0 MHz).

Under this condition, you are required to commence operation within six months of allocation of your licence, continue to provide a service with reasonable regularity and maintain records of the commencement, hours of operation and provision of a service under your licence.

The main purpose for imposing a 'Use it or lose it' condition is to prevent persons from obtaining LPON licences, then not operating them. This is known as 'hoarding'. The hoarding of LPON transmitter licences is not permitted. You must commence a service within six months of being issued a LPON licence and provide the service with reasonable regularity, unless there are valid reasons for not doing so. The ACMA may cancel your transmitter licence if this condition is not met.

How to obtain an LPON transmitter licence

The ACMA issues the transmitter licences for LPON services by way of a price-based allocation process (PBA). Read the LPON applicant information package for more information.

The ACMA is inviting applications for potential transmitter licences for LPON services to be determined under the LPON Planning Model. The ACMA will accept applications for locations Australia wide. To be eligible to participate in the application process application documents must be completed and submitted by the closing date of the application window period. The application window is:

                11.00 am Monday 8 August 2016 to 11.00 am Monday 22 August 2016

Applicants should note that the FM radio protection zones continue to apply. Consequently restrictions apply on the allocation of LPON frequencies in certain areas. Refer to the LPON planning model for more information. A spatial representation of the FM radio protection zones is available as a Google Earth placemark (KMZ, 1 MB).

The ACMA uses a simple planning model to facilitate the licensing of LPON transmitters without having to conduct detailed broadcast planning. The planning model is designed to provide interference free reception between LPON services, but not between an LPON service and a mainstream broadcasting service planned in a LAP.

The ACMA assesses each application for a new LPON transmitter site and frequency against the planning model. Where the details are consistent with the planning model, the ACMA will proceed to make an LPON licence available at the nominated site.

It is important to note that if you are the only applicant, the ACMA will offer you the opportunity to acquire a licence at its reserve price. Where there is more than one applicant, the ACMA will hold an open-outcry auction to allocate the licence.

See previous auction results.

Definition of residential areas and non-residential areas

For the purposes of LPON licensing, a residential area is an area within 20 km of an Urban Centre or Locality as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in the 2001 Census. A complete list of such areas is on the ABS website at www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/2909.02001?OpenDocument. A non-residential area is an area at least 20 kilometres from the boundary of an Urban Centre or Locality.

The current residential area boundaries can be downloaded in Shapefile format (ZIP, 6 MB) suitable for use in Geographic Information System (GIS) software. The residential area boundaries are also available as a Google Earth placemark (KMZ, 1 MB).

Further information

Email: info@acma.gov.au
Phone: 1300 850 115
Fax: 02 6219 5347

Mail to:
Customer Service Centre
Australian Communications and Media Authority
PO Box 78
Belconnen ACT 2616

Last updated: 19 September 2016

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