FM Translators and LPFM

Last week, we wrote about the FCC’s announcements of the opening of the filing period for LPTV, TV translator and FM stations that are seeking reimbursement for the costs they incurred because of the repacking of TV channels into a smaller part of the spectrum following the incentive auction. The FCC forms that need

As we noted in our post yesterday, the OMB recently approved the FCC’s forms to allow for reimbursement of the expenses of LPTV and TV translator stations and FM stations (full power and low power) and FM translators caused by the repacking of the TV spectrum following the incentive auction.  This approval sets

Months ago, the FCC approved reimbursing TV translators, LPTV stations, FM stations, and FM translators that incurred costs as a result of the repacking of TV stations into less spectrum following the TV incentive auction (see our post here).  Congress last year allocated the FCC money so that LPTV stations and TV translators forced

Last week, the FCC started a new proceeding through the adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to review several restrictions that currently apply to Low Power FM stations.  While doing so, it will also review the current rules, dating from the analog television days, restricting certain FM operations in the non-commercial reserved band of the FM dial where those operations are near Channel 6 TV stations.  Comments will be due on this proposal 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, with Replies due 15 days later.

The LPFM proposals look at a number of issues.  The Commission asks if LPFM stations should be allowed to operate with directional antennas, which are currently routinely barred given that these antennas may be more difficult to operate and maintain.  When the rules were originally adopted, there was a fear that LPFM licensees, who may not have a technical background or substantial resources for engineering support, could not maintain those antennas so as to protect other FM stations operating on the same and adjacent channels.  Similar concerns currently limit LPFM stations from using on-channel boosters to fill in holes in their service area.  The FCC asks if these prohibitions can be lifted as the LPFM industry has become more mature, allowing LPFMs to use both directional antennas and on-channel boosters without risking increased interference to other stations.
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The FCC’s new rules setting out a procedure to resolve complaints of interference from FM translators to full power stations will become effective on August 13. Initially, as we noted in our list of August regulatory dates for broadcasters, only the new policy allowing translators that cause interference to move to any available

Once upon a time, August was a quiet month in Washington, when everyone went on vacation. Sure, there are plenty of vacations that will happen this coming month, but it seems that regulatory activity no longer takes a break. For example, August 1 is the due date for the filing with the FCC of license renewals for all radio stations (including translators and LPFM stations) in North and South Carolina, and the filing of associated EEO forms for all full power radio stations in those states. With the renewal filing comes the obligation that these stations start airing, on August 1 and August 16, their post-filing announcements informing the public about the submission of the license renewal applications. Radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, who filed their renewals on or before June 2, also need to keep running their post-filing announcements on these same dates. Radio stations in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, who are in the next license renewal group with their renewal applications to be filed by October 1, need to start broadcasting their pre-filing announcements this month, also to run on the 1st and 16th of the month. See our post here on pre-filing announcements.

Commercial and noncommercial full power and Class A Television Stations and AM and FM radio stations in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin that are part of an employment unit with five or more full-time employees must place their annual EEO public inspection file reports in their online public file. Links to those reports should also be placed on the home pages of these station’s websites, if they have a website. The effectiveness of these EEO public file reports, and the EEO programs of which they are a part, are being reviewed by the FCC in a proceeding started by a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking about which we wrote here. Comments on this notice asking for suggestions about how to make the EEO rules more effective are due August 21, with reply comments due by September 5.
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You may remember a few years ago, the FCC cracked down on “serial modifications” of FM translators to move them from rural to more urban areas (see, for instance, the cases about which we wrote here and here), considering such moves an abuse of process.  In a decision released earlier this week, it looks like the FCC’s Audio Division may be backing away from that policy.  In that decision, the FCC approved an application for a move of a translator into Chicago as the 4th hop from the translator’s original site in rural Illinois.

In the old decisions, the FCC had looked at instances where operators tried to move translators to big markets through multiple minor change applications – accomplishing through these “hops” what they normally could not do except during a major change window for translator applications – something that has not happened for since 2003.  These old decisions deemed it an abuse of process to accomplish through multiple steps what an applicant could not do through a single application, especially when the applicant evidenced no intent to serve the public at any of these interim locations.  In these cases, the applicant had often constructed on a temporary basis at a hop location, only to take the translator off the air after just a few days of operation (often dismantling the tower too).  The decision this week looked at a slightly different situation and found that the multiple hops into Chicago were permissible – and set out criteria for determining whether such hops were permissible or not.
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At its open meeting yesterday, the FCC largely adopted the draft order on changes to its processes for resolving complaints about interference from FM translators to existing FM stations. Its final Report and Order adopting the new rules was released after the meeting yesterday. The general guidelines that we detailed in our summary of the draft order were adopted – so that complaints will generally be considered only when they are from within a primary station’s 45 dBu contour (with a potential for consideration of complaints from outside that contour through a waiver process, where the complaining station shows that there is a significant pocket of listeners outside that contour), and only when a threshold number of bona fide listener complaints have been filed.  When a sufficient number of complaints have been filed, the FCC will ask the operator of the translator to either resolve all complaints by resolving the interference complaints of each of the complaining listeners or by working with the operator of the pre-existing station. If no resolution can be worked out, the parties to the dispute are to engage a third party consulting engineer. FCC will make the final determination whether the interference has been resolved based on information provided by the third-party engineer. If the interference is not resolved to the satisfaction of FCC staff, a translator can be ordered off the air.

The biggest change from the draft order is in the number of complaints necessary to sustain a complaint in bigger markets. In the draft order, the Commission proposed that a station with millions of people in its protected service area might need as many as 65 listener complaints to sustain an interference objection. The Order adopted yesterday changed that tentative decision and instead capped the number of listener complaints that were needed to support an interference claim at 25 for stations with over 2 million people in their protected contour. The FCC also made clear that listeners cannot be offered payment or other inducement for submitting a complaint. Finally, the Commission decided that it would resolve all complaints in 90 days unless there was a compelling reason for more time. Once the FCC has determined that an appropriate number of interference complaints have been filed, it will notify the parties of that fact, and provide intermediate deadlines for submission of a remediation plan or other benchmarks as appropriate. If nothing is resolved in 90 days, and there are no unusual circumstances warranting more time, the FCC may order the offending translator off the air at the end of that period.
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With the June 3 filing deadline fast approaching for license renewals for radio stations in Maryland, DC, Virginia and West Virginia, stations (including FM translators and LPFMs) licensed to any community in any of those states should be beginning to prepare their applications. As we wrote here, the FCC forms should be available next week, so once May 1 rolls around, early birds in those states can start to file their renewal applications and the accompanying EEO program report. These stations should also be running their pre-filing license renewal announcements on the 1st and 16th of May. Radio stations in the next renewal group, stations in North and South Carolina, should be prepared to begin their license renewal pre-filing announcements in June – so in May they should be recording and scheduling that announcement to run for the first time on June 1 (see this article on pre-filing announcements for more information).

While May is one of those months with no other regularly scheduled regulatory filing deadlines, it is full of other FCC deadlines including comment dates in several proceedings of importance to broadcasters. In addition, broadcasters in Arizona, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees should also be preparing to add to their online public inspection file their Annual EEO Public File Report – due to be added to their files by June 1.
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The FCC last week released a draft order (available here) in its proceeding looking at revising the procedures to resolve complaints of interference by translators (and certain LPFM stations) to existing FM stations. The draft order proposes many changes to the current process. For the most part, these changes will provide more certainty to translator operators as to whether the new translator they are constructing will be subject to being forced off the air, while making it somewhat more difficult for full-power stations to sustain a claim of interference from new translators. We wrote about the FCC’s initiation of this proceeding here and here.

The headline in many reports about this draft order is the FCC’s tentative decision to allow translators that do cause interference to move to any available FM channel to resolve that interference. In the past, channel moves have been limited to moves to adjacent channels that would be considered a “minor change” by the FCC. In many markets, this will provide the translator operator more opportunities to continue to operate its translator if it does in fact create areas of new interference. Of course, in some spectrum-limited markets, there may not be an alternative channel on which a new translator can be authorized if it has to move off its initial channel (and interference complaints may well be more likely in such spectrum-limited markets as the translator operator may not have had many channels that were clearly free from interference concerns from which to select). But the proposed new rules would also make objections harder to support.
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