The FCC today announced that, effective October 27, noncommercial FM stations need no longer protect Channel 6 analog television channels.  The lower end of the FM band, which is reserved for noncommercial educational FM broadcasting, is immediately adjacent to TV Channel 6.  As most television stations abandoned Channel 6 in June when the digital television transition occurred, noncommercial stations had been protecting stations that were no longer there.  However, as we wrote here, the FCC wanted to deal with noncommercial licensees that were trying to jump the gun by filing applications contingent on the disappearance of the Channel 6 station even before the analog television stations had stopped operating.  To give all noncommercial FM stations an equal opportunity to take advantage of the clearing of Channel 6 in most television markets, the Commission set this uniform date for taking advantage of this change in television station operations.  Of course, noncommercial FM stations need to protect the handful of television stations that continue to operate digitally on Channel 6.  Today’s public notice notes that noncommercial FM applications trying to take advantage of the fact that Channel 6 has been vacated in their market by filing an application before the October 27 date will be dismissed unless they had specific unconditional permission of the Channel 6 station.

Note that while the FCC has made the process equal for all noncommercial FM stations, there are questions about whether an unfair advantage may have been given to some LPTV stations in the recent LPTV filing window, where channel 6 applications were not prohibited (see our post here).  Some noncommercial broadcasters were concerned that some of these LPTV applicants could take advantage of the vacating of Channel 6 in their market by filing an application for a new LPTV station that could preclude the filing of an FM application once the window announced in this public notice opened.  To some extent, this may not be a major issue, as the LPTV window for applications for major markets does not open until January.  But we will see if this concern actually resulted in any issues in more rural areas as the LPTV applications that have already been filed in these areas are processed in coming months.  But for NCE FM stations that were precluded from filing for upgrades by a Channel 6 TV station that disappeared after the digital transition, the wait for filing opportunities will soon be over.