The FCC today issued a long-awaited public notice, clarifying the relationship between FM educational stations and the analog Channel 6 TV stations that have or will be disappearing after the digital transition.  As we’ve written before, the question of whether noncommercial FM stations could seek improvements in their facilities based on the imminent disappearance of the Channel 6 stations has been pending for quite some time.  In the Public Notice issued today, the FCC made clear that no application for an improvement in a noncommercial FM station will be accepted before the DTV deadline unless it provides full protection to analog Channel 6 stations.  Even after the transition, applications will only be accepted after procedures are established in another public notice to be issued by the FCC at some later date.  Applications that are currently pending which don’t comply with the current rules that require educational stations to protect Channel 6 TV operations (either protecting them from interference or having unequivocal consent from the TV station to the construction at any time of the FM station not conditioned on the digital transition) will be dismissed.

The dismissal will be particularly crucial in deciding between competing applications still being processed as past of the 2007 window for filing for new noncommercial FM stations.  In that window, many applicants submitted applications ignoring the existence of Channel 6 TV stations, while others protected those stations.  Those who ignored the Channel 6 operations would have received significant comparative coverage advantages had the FCC not taken the action announced today – dismissing those applications who ignored the Channel 6 operations. While this notice seems to be definitive – given the processing issues on these applications so far – we probably have not heard the last of this issue.