The FCC yesterday released a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) seeking to gather more information about a proposal to establish a new Class C4 FM station. This new class of FM station would allow some Class A stations, currently limited to power levels of 6 kW ERP at an antenna heights of no more than 100 meters, to increase their facilities to up to 12 kW. We wrote about this proposal here and here at earlier stages of its consideration. The FCC also includes in its Notice of Inquiry a proposal to amend Section 73.215 of the FCC rules. That section allows FM stations to be located at less than the normally required distances to stations to which they could potentially cause interference, if they use directional antennas or otherwise protect the other station’s maximum permitted facilities. The proposal on which the FCC seeks comments is one that would allow short-spacings under Section 73.215 if the upgrading station protects the other station’s actual contours, not their maximum permitted contour. In other words, stations that are not operating at the full permissible height or power for their class of FM station could lose protections they currently enjoy, and either be forced to upgrade themselves to block the short-spaced application or be prohibited from doing so in the future.
On the C4 proposal, the FCC asks how the implementation of this proposal would impact other full-service stations and the many new FM translators that have been authorized in the last few years. In addition, the FCC asks whether any increased coverage by the stations that could take advantage of the C4 proposal would outweigh the general increase in the “noise floor” (the overall interference caused to FM stations) in the FM band. Questions about the proposal’s impact on LPFM channel availability are also raised in the NOI.
Almost identical questions are raised by the FCC about the proposed amendment to Section 73.215. The FCC asks for its impact on other stations, both full-power and secondary, and asks if the improvements are worth creating a more congested FM band.
Comments on these proposals will be due 30 days after the NOI is summarized in the Federal Register. Reply comments will be due 60 days after that publication. As there are broadcasters on all sides of these issues, we expect that there will be much participation in this proceeding. After comments are filed, the FCC will decide whether to move forward and issue a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, specifying specific changes in the rules to implement the ideas advanced in response to the NOI.