Right before Christmas, the FCC’s Media Bureau released a Public Notice announcing that they have reviewed the final set of mutually exclusive LPFM applications. “Mutually exclusive applications” are applications for stations in the same geographic area which cannot all be granted without creating interference issues. The notice identifies tentative winners selected by the “point system” that the FCC uses to decide between mutually exclusive applicants (or applicants headed for shared time arrangements where they remained tied after the FCC’s “point system” analysis). The Public Notice lists 96 mutually exclusive groups of LPFM applicants in the Southeast and South Central states. We wrote in July about a group of Western applications that had already been considered by the FCC, and in September about another group of LPFM applications in the Northeast and North Central states. So this current notice should be the final major list of LPFM applications that need to be processed by the FCC. The issuance of this notice gives broadcasters and other interested parties 30 days to file any objections to these proposed new stations. In addition, applicants can raise issues against each other. Objections are due on January 22.
The notice also sets a 90 day window for LPFM applicants whose applications are listed in this notice to file applications to make changes in their applications – including major changes to new frequencies or different transmitter sites. Applicants who were not the tentative winners in the FCC’s consideration of the mutually exclusive groups have another shot to get FCC permission to construct a new LPFM station, if they can find an open frequency in the next 90 days. Those amendments are due by March 23, but are often filed earlier as they are treated by the FCC on a first come, first served basis. Broadcasters need to watch these amendments, as they could pose interference issues for full-power FM stations on channels not previously proposed for use by any LPFM applicant.
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.
The public notice also sets the dates for many filing obligations and opportunities for the applicants themselves – including petitions against the other applicants to challenge their point system claims. Other deadlines set out in the notice include those for filing shared-time arrangements, and amendments to the applications, including major changes, that would remove an applicant from the mutually exclusive group in which they are in. We wrote in more detail about those issues in connection with the earlier group of applications, including the fact that, for certain of these filing opportunities, filing early can confer benefits.
We also wrote in a prior post how full-power stations need to watch for these major amendments that can be filed by LPFM applicants, as these applicants can amend their application so they end up on entirely new channels, far removed from those for which they initially applied. These amended applications, if they find a channel that the FCC’s analysis determines is not mutually exclusive with any other application and does not on its face cause interference to an existing station, will come out in the normal daily FCC public notices of broadcast applications (which can list hundreds of different broadcast applications filed every day), not in any subsequent special LPFM public notice. These public notices will also include notice about second-adjacent channel waivers. Once a public notice comes out, a full-power licensee has only 30 days to object to the amended application. After the earlier lists of LPFM tentative selectees, the amendments came in quickly, and public notices of acceptances of these amendments began only days after the initial public notice. So full-power broadcasters need to beware, and carefully watch the FCC public notices for any application that could pose an issue for their operations.
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 be busy in these early days of 2015 reviewing all the issues raised by this public notice.