More LPFMs are on the way, and broadcasters have 30 days to file any objections to the coming new stations. In an order just released by the FCC, the FCC applied its “point system” to select the winning applicant in groups of mutually exclusive applications filed in the recent LPFM window in Western states (as far east as Nebraska and Kansas). Future selectees in other parts of the country will come in later public notices. This notice starts the clock on several dates – including a 30 day petition to deny period where full-power stations can raise issues of interference and other issues against applicants, and applicants can raise issues against each other. The notice also sets a 90 day window for LPFM applicants whose applications were under consideration in this notice to file applications to make changes in their applications – including major changes to new frequencies or different transmitter sites.
The FCC’s notice consists of three documents. First, there is a description of the action taken by the FCC setting out how the points were awarded to applicants, the options now available to the applicants based on the point system determinations, and the deadlines for the Petitions. Next, there is a list of the applications that were considered, highlighting the winning applicant in each group of mutually exclusive applicants (or the winning applicants if there was a tie under the point system analysis). The third document lists all of the applicants on the list who requested waivers of the spacing requirements to full-power stations on second-adjacent channels. Licensees of full-power stations serving areas near these proposed stations should review these applications carefully.
As we have written before (e.g. here and here), the Local Community Radio Act permitted LPFM stations to ignore third-adjacent channel spacings to full-power stations. The applications for new LPFMs still had to observe second-adjacent channel spacings but, like FM translators, they could ask for waivers of the second-adjacent channel spacing rules if they could show that they would not cause any interference to any full-power station in a populated area. The deadline is August 8 for a petition to deny any of the LPFM applicants, based on interference or other basic qualifications issues.
Many LPFM applicants have requested such waivers. In fact, in many larger markets, LPFMs could only fit into these markets with second-adjacent channel waivers. Some of these stations are squeezed into areas where there is already a crowded FM band – and at least one pleading has been filed with the FCC asking the FCC to make clear that these stations cannot create any interference to full-power stations. Most of the waiver showings filed by LPFM applicants address only the interference to stations on the second-adjacent channels, but this pleading (which I filed on behalf of a client) points out that these shoe-horned in LPFM stations may cause interference to co-channel and first-adjacent channel stations to which they are fully spaced, but where, for individualized reasons like the nature of the terrain, actual interference will occur.
The applicants themselves have 90 days to determine whether to file amendments to change channels or make other technical changes to their applications. Presumably, applicants who did not win under the point system analysis will be looking for these technical changes to save their applications. But some who ended up in ties, and who will be forced to share the channel with another applicant, or who might end up having their application dismissed by application of a tie-breaker, may also end up looking for new channels or new sites to resolve their mutual exclusivity and have a channel to themselves. Such applicants need to observe all interference rules and also need to make sure that they still comply with requirements for local ownership of LPFM stations. Amendments are due in 90 days (as are sharing agreements among those tied applicants who decide to share channels). The deadline for such filings is October 8.
For applicants who are tied in a point system analysis, they have that 90 day period to work out a shared-time arrangement with the applicants with whom they are tied. If there are multiple applicants with the same number of points, applicants who work out shared time arrangements will have their points added up, to give them preferences against other applicants who do not agree to share the frequency. Up to three tied applicants can agree to share a frequency.
If the applicants cannot agree to share, the Commission will impose a sharing plan on the applicants. If there are three or fewer tied applicants, all will share time, the applicant with the longest continuous operation in the local area will get a preference on the times during which it will be allowed to operate. If there are more than three applicants who are tied, the three applicants with the longest continuous operation in the local area will be forced into a shared time arrangement, and the others will be dismissed.
So this notice starts the clock on many events. LPFM applicants need to look at their proposals and see what can be done. Full-power stations need to be vigilant to make sure that none of these applications (or any amendments subsequently filed by these LPFM applicants) will cause interference to their operations. Engineers will no doubt have their hands full reviewing these matters in the near term.