Do you have a deal to buy a new station or a planned technical modification that needs FCC approval? Well, it looks like those plans may have to wait as the budget controversy in Washington has shut down the FCC. But what does the shut-down really mean for broadcasters? The FCC clarified some of the questions broadcasters have in a Public Notice released Wednesday.

Most applications will not be processed, though the FCC has made clear that it will have FCC staff members available to deal with issues related to the TV spectrum repacking that was caused by the incentive auction. So for those stations needing FCC approvals for actions relating to the repacking of the TV band, the FCC will be functioning. Unlike in past shutdowns (see, for instance, our article here), the FCC website will remain up and generally will be operating, and the CDBS and LMS databases used for most broadcast applications will continue to function (though without any sort of tech support if an applicant has problems). Certain other databases relevant to some aspects of broadcast operations (like the public complaint filing system, the International Bureau’s database used for filing earth station applications, and the tower registration database) will not be available. Perhaps most surprisingly, as the FCC does not specifically mention it in the Public Notice, the FCC has shuttered its Online Public Inspection File database for broadcasters. With that database not working, public file updates (including the Quarterly Issues Programs lists that are due to be added to the files by January 10, cannot be uploaded unless the government reopens. Note that, in the FCC’s orders adopting the online public inspection file obligations, stations are supposed to be able to provide access to their political files when the FCC system is offline (see our article here). While no access to the rest of the file is required, stations are supposed to be able to provide access to back-ups of the political file. Luckily, with few elections taking place at the moment, this should not generally be a widespread issue, but it could obviously become an issue should the shutdown persist.
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The FCC last week issued a Public Notice announcing another window for mutually exclusive applicants filed in the second translator window to attempt to resolve the interference conflicts that the FCC found to exist between certain of these applications. A window for such settlements had been opened several months ago, but these are additional

The FCC yesterday issued a Public Notice announcing a window for mutually exclusive applicants filed in the second translator window to attempt to resolve the interference conflicts that the FCC found to exist between certain applications. The conflicting applications are listed on the Excel spreadsheet found here. These are translator applications filed in the

It appears that the FCC is attempting to clear its backlog of pending translator applications – and moving quickly to do so. On Friday, it released a Public Notice announcing a new auction beginning on May 15 for the small set of mutually exclusive applications left from last year’s window for the filing of FM

The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice announcing a filing window from April 18 through May 9 for “long-form” applications for new translators that were filed in the January 2018 window for Class A and B AM stations to seek new FM translators to rebroadcast their stations. The Public Notice also sets out the procedures for filing in this window. The window is for the filing of a complete Form 349 applications by applicants who were deemed to be “singletons,” i.e. their applications are not predicted to cause interference to any other translator applicant. The list of singletons is here.  The long-form application requires more certifications and technical information than that which was submitted during the initial filing window.

After the long-form application is submitted to the FCC, the application will be published in an FCC public notice of broadcast applications. Interested parties will have 15 days from that publication date to comment or object. If no comments are filed, and no other issues arise, the FCC’s Audio Division is known for its speed in processing translator applications so that grants might be expected for many of the applications within 60 days of the end of the window.
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The FCC has just announced an auction for approximately 43 translators left over from the 2003 FM translator window (see proposed auction procedures here, and list of mutually exclusive applicants here). The auction is scheduled to begin in June. These applications are mutually exclusive applications left over from that 2003 window, where the

Late yesterday, the FCC released the Public Notice setting out the instructions for the final window for AM stations to get exclusive access to FM translator stations.  This window, to be open in late January, is primarily for Class A and B AM stations that were not permitted to file in this summer’s window when Class C and D AM stations could file for new FM translators. But any AM licensee who did not file in this summer’s window, and who also did not acquire a translator last year during the period when AM licensees could acquire existing FM translators and move them up to 250 miles to rebroadcast their AM station, can also participate.

The final window will be open from January 25 through January 31.  As in this summer’s window, mutually exclusive applications filed during that window will be resolved by an auction if they cannot be resolved by settlements or engineering solutions. Resolving mutually exclusive applications can be done only by filing settlements or technical amendments that comply with the minor change rules – meaning that the amendments can only amend to different sites on the same channel, or on channels three up and three down from that initially specified, or a channel precluded from use by the initially proposed channel because of Intermediate Frequency interference. Applicants cannot amend to any vacant channel that may be available in their area.  In this summer’s window, most applicants were able to avoid mutual exclusivity with other applicants – but not all (as witnessed by the mutually exclusive groups that had until last week to settle their differences through dismissals for no more than out-of-pocket expenses or by engineering amendments – see our article here). 
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While November is an odd numbered month in which there are no deadlines for EEO Public File or Mid-term Reports, and it is not the beginning of a new calendar quarter when Quarterly Issues Programs Reports are added to a station’s public file and Quarterly Children’s Television Reports are filed with the FCC, that does not mean that there are no dates of interest to broadcasters this month. In fact, there are numerous policy issues that will be decided this month, and filing dates both for television broadcasters and AM broadcasters seeking FM translators for their stations.

The biggest policy dates will be November 16, when the FCC holds its monthly meeting, with two major broadcast items on the agenda. As we wrote here, the FCC will be considering both the adoption of ATSC 3.0, the new television transmission system promising better mobile reception and more data transmission capabilities for TV stations, and the reconsideration of last year’s decision on the ownership rules, where the FCC is expected to repeal the broadcast-newspaper and radio television cross-ownership rules and loosen the restrictions on TV duopolies in markets where such duopolies cannot now be formed.
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The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice providing the details for its settlement window for mutually exclusive applications for new FM translators to rebroadcast AM stations. The settlement window will run through November 29. The mutually-exclusive applications (applications which conflict with each other as they cannot both operate without creating prohibited interference) are listed on an appendix available here. These applications were the ones filed earlier this summer in the FCC’s first window reserved for AM station licensees to file for new FM translators to rebroadcast their AM stations as part of the FCC’s AM revitalization proceeding. The first window was for Class C and D AM stations to submit applications. Class A and B AMs, which generally have greater coverage areas, will be able to file applications in a window to open either later this year or, at this point, more likely in early 2018. The majority of applications filed in this year’s window, which are not listed on the appendix of mutually exclusive applications and which did not receive a letter from the FCC in the last few weeks identifying deficiencies in their short-form applications, are likely “singletons,” meaning that these applications are not in conflict with any other and will likely be asked to file a “long-form” application completing the FCC Form 349 before being proposed for grant at some point later this year or early next year.

As we have written, as these applications were filed in the context of a potential auction, applicants cannot talk to each other except during announced settlement windows. Now that the settlement window has been announced, mutually exclusive applicants can discuss trying to resolve the mutual exclusivity either through technical means or by the dismissal of one of the applications. Technical means could include any “minor change” in the facilities initially proposed by one or both of the mutually-exclusive applicants, e.g. frequency moves to adjacent channels, transmitter site changes, or directional antenna proposals. Dismissal of applications can only be for the reimbursement of a dismissing applicant’s legitimate expenses – the dismissing applicant cannot be paid big bucks to dismiss its application. More details of the settlement process are set out in the Public Notice, but note that the deadline for the submission of any resolution to the FCC is November 29.
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It has been over two years since the last window allowing applicants to file for new FM stations (see our article here). There had been some speculation that the number of requests for new allotments was decreasing, leaving the FCC with few FM channels to auction off and thereby breaking what had been an almost yearly start of a new FCC auction for new FM channels. But, yesterday, the FCC released an Order noting numerous vacant FM channels, though this time they are not newly allotted channels, but instead ones that had previously been awarded to applicants who either did not pay the amount they bid in the auction, or who received a CP and then did not construct the station. Even included on this list is the FM channel of the station that had its license designated for hearing as the station had been silent for almost its entire renewal term (see our article here), a hearing that never had to happen as the licensee surrendered its license rather than trying to litigate over whether its renewal should be granted.

Of course, many of these channels may have some inherent issues leading those who initially sought them not to construct. The issues could be location specific (e.g. no readily available transmitter sites for a price that made construction feasible) or there could be issues with the applicant not being able to fulfill its initial plans. Interested parties should do their investigation. When will the channels be available?
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