As part of its efforts to diversify the ownership of the broadcast media, the FCC promised in its recent order on Localism in the media (see our summary here) to have its engineering staff come up with a computer program to help people determine where a new FM station can be allotted by the FCC, opening the process that will result in an auction to determine who gets a construction permit to build that station. Today, the Commission’s staff released a public notice announcing that this new program is now on-line, and that interested people can see where a new FM station will "fit" consistent with all FCC rules that require that certain spacings be maintained between stations on the same or adjacent channels to avoid interference. The program for determining whether new allotments can be made is available here. All you need to do is provide geographic coordinates for a potential station, and the Commission’s new program will tell you if a new FM station could work there.
As the Commission notes in its Public Notice, the tool will only locate Class A FM stations – the lowest power station – limited to 6 kw of effective radiated power at 100 meters tower height – giving a station a protected coverage radius of approximately 15 miles (though actual coverage may differ depending on factors including terrain and the proximity of other stations). Also note that simply finding an empty channel does not get you a station. Instead, a party who finds a channel in an area that they would like to serve must then petition the FCC to "allot" the channel to a specific community that they want to serve. That proposal is processed by the FCC’s staff and, if acceptable, placed on public notice when other parties can comment on the proposal or file counterproposals suggesting the use of the frequency at some other location. Once the Commission reviews any comments, they will decide whether to allot the channel. If and when an allotment is made, it still isn’t ready for application. Instead, the FCC saves new allotments and periodically puts out lists of these new allotments available for application – a "window" notice as a precursor to a possible auction. Interested parties can then file with the FCC indicating interest in the channel and, if more than one person expresses interest in the channel (which virtually always happens), the channel will be auctioned to the highest bidder (though new entrants do get some bidding credits). All told, the process can take several years from the discovery of the available channel to the award of the construction permit. But, while the process may not be fast, this new tool provided by the Commission has made it somewhat easier.