2003 FM translator filing window

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

A proposal to allow AM station licensees to buy FM translators located as far as 250 miles away from the AM station and move them to an area where they can rebroadcast the AM station was the talk of the NAB Radio Show last week.   With battling news releases from FCC Commissioners (one from Commissioner Pai supporting an immediate translator window during which AM licensees would have an exclusive right to file for new FM translators, and a subsequent one from Commissioner Clyburn where she indicates her belief that the 250 mile proposal was the quickest way to bring translators to AM licensees), this proposal seems to have replaced the proposed translator window restricted to AM owners that had been proposed in the AM revitalization order introduced by the FCC about 2 years ago (see our summary of the initial proposal for an AM window here, and a discussion of the controversy over that window here and here). What does this proposal entail?

While the precise rules that are being considered by the Commission are unclear as they have not been released for public comment, from comments made in the public statements released by FCC Commissioners last week, other comments made by FCC staffers at the Radio Show, and stories reported by the trade press, it appears that the FCC is considering allowing any AM licensee to buy a translator located within 250 miles of their AM station and, as a one-step minor change application, to move the translator onto any channel that fits in the AM station’s market.  An AM licensee buys the translator authorization – and it basically gives that licensee the right to file for a vacant frequency in its market on a first-come, first-served basis. 
Continue Reading Moving FM Translators 250 Miles to Rebroadcast an AM Station – What the FCC is Considering as Part of Its AM Revitalization Proceeding

An order deciding on the steps the FCC will take to revitalize AM radio is currently being actively considered by the Commissioners. As we wrote earlier this week, the biggest argument about the proposal that is circulating is reportedly whether or not that order will provide for a window for filing for new FM translators specifically to be used for the rebroadcast of AM stations. As we wrote, the FCC Chairman has indicated his opposition to that proposal – and the reasons for that opposition were made clearer in the press conference following yesterday’s open FCC meeting. While AM radio was not on the agenda of the meeting, the Chairman was nevertheless asked about his opposition to the AM-only translator window. His response? He said something along the lines of – Everybody has the right to ask for free spectrum, but it’s not the general policy of this agency to give it away. It seems to me that this cannot be the full reason for his opposition, as the process for awarding FM translators generally results in spectrum being given away for free – and Congress in fact set up the system that way, reserving an auction only as a last resort in the award of FM translators. An AM-only window for FM translators is no more a give-away of free spectrum than is any other translator filing window.

Applications for new FM translators are filed during pre-announced auction filing windows. If, during one of those windows, mutually exclusive applications are filed (applications that, for technical reasons conflict with each other), these applications are not immediately thrown into an auction as would be the case when there are mutually exclusive applications for full-power FM or TV channels. Instead, pursuant to the Congressional authorization for the auctions used to award spectrum to commercial broadcasters, an auction is used for secondary services like FM translators, and for AM stations where there are no pre-allocated channels, only where the applicants cannot themselves first find a solution for their mutual exclusivity. Thus, once applications are filed, the FCC announces a window during which applicants can work together to coordinate modifications to their proposed facilities to attempt to come up with engineering solutions so that both applications can be granted, or to work out other permitted settlements. As a result of the 2003 FM translator window, the FCC has already granted thousands of new FM translators – and none of these applications were granted as the result of an auction (see our articles here, here and here about the grant of these translators). All were either singletons (meaning they were not technically mutually exclusive with any other application) or they were granted after engineering amendments or other settlements resolved their mutual exclusivity. All of the thousands of new FM translators granted after the 2003 window were “free spectrum,” no different than any applications that would be granted following any AM-only translator filing window.
Continue Reading More on AM Revitalization – Why the FCC Chairman is Against an AM-Only Filing Window For FM Translators

FM translator processing and LPFMs have been inextricably tied together for years, as the services compete for spectrum throughout the country. While the principal conflicts between the two services were, for the most part, resolved last year, it seems that there will always be some ties between the two. At Wednesday’s FCC open meeting, this was illustrated by the fact that there were two reports – one on the status of the processing of the remaining applications from the 2003 FM translator window, and another about the preparations for the upcoming LPFM window.  The report on translators talked about the almost 2000 translator applications that have been or will be granted this year, and how the 2003 backlog soon will be down to only about 200 applications still mutually exclusive and to be awarded by an auction,  The LPFM report talked about the well-attended webinars that have been held by the FCC to educate the public about the possibility of new stations – and the reportedly hundreds of draft applications already partially prepared in the FCC’s electronic filing system – even though the filing window does not open for several weeks.

On the translator front. the FCC two weeks ago announced that there will be another 104 “tech box” proposals that are not mutually exclusive with any other translator application from the 2003 FM translator filing window (see the list here). These are on top of the 1700 other applications that were considered to be grantable in two separate lists that came out earlier this year (see our articles about these prior “singleton” groups, here and here). Long-form applications (ones that spell out the details of the applicant’s proposals, including information about the applicant’s ownership and specific technical information about where the station will be built) for the 104 newly identified singleton applications are due on October 9. Instructions for filing those applications are available here.

That deadline is just prior to the deadline for LPFM applications. As with other recent translator filings, the long-form applications for these new translators are only protected against interference from new LPFM applications from the coming window to the extent of their coverage on June 17, the date that the LPFM window was announced. Moves made from the sites specified as of June 17 may not have any protection from subsequent LPFM applications. But the new LPFM applications themselves have numerous rules and procedures that they must follow to be found acceptable in the upcoming window.Continue Reading More New FM Translators to Be Granted, While FCC Provides More Details for LPFM Filing Window

Every year, about this time, I dust off the crystal ball to offer a look at the year ahead to see what Washington has in store for broadcasters.  This year, like many in the recent past, Washington will consider issues that could fundamentally affect the broadcast industry – for both radio and TV, and affecting the growing on-line presence of broadcasters.  The FCC, Congress, and other government agencies are never afraid to provide their views on what the industry should be doing but, unlike other members of the audience, they can force broadcasters to pay attention to their views by way of new laws and regulations. And there is never a shortage of ideas from Washington as to how broadcasters should act.  Some of the issues discussed below are perennials, coming back over and over again on my yearly list (often without resolution), while others are unique to this coming year.  Issues unique to radio and TV, and those that could affect the broadcast industry generally, are addressed below.

Television Issues

Spectrum issues have been the dominant TV concerns in past years, first with the digital transition, and more recently with the "white spaces" rulemaking and the proposals advanced as part of the FCC’s Broadband Plan to reclaim part of the TV spectrum for wireless broadband uses.  These issues remain on the FCC’s agenda, as do new issues dealing with the carriage of television stations by cable and satellite television providers.  Specific issues for TV include:

Spectrum reclamation:  The initial proposals for the reclamation of part of the TV spectrum for wireless broadband were laid by the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released in November, looking at how the TV spectrum could be used more efficiently, and how incentive auctions encouraging some TV stations to vacate their channels could be conducted.  Congress still has to pass legislation to allow such auctions, and it will probably also mandate a spectrum inventory to determine if the reclamation of the TV spectrum is really necessary to provide for wireless broadband needs.  At the same time, some TV operators have begun to talk about television stations themselves providing broadband service with their excess spectrum.  While Congress will probably act on the auction bills this year, and there will be much debate about the details of the reallocation issue, so don’t expect final resolution of this matter in 2011.

White Spaces:  The FCC has authorized the operation of wireless devices in the television spectrum, resolving many of the concerns about interference to television operators by requiring all wireless users to protect operating TV channels in specific areas based on databases of existing users, not on spectrum sensing techniques.  But implementation issues still need to be worked out – including finding parties to compile and administer the databases to make sure that all existing spectrum users who are to be protected are registered.  Expect action on these matters this year, but no actual white spaces use until after these implementation efforts are completed.

LPTV Digital Transition:  While many members of the general public may consider the digital television transition to be complete, many Low Power TV stations and TV translators are still operating in analog.  The FCC has commenced a proceeding to require the transition of these stations to digital, suggesting that the transition be complete as early as the end of 2012.  Expect controversy on this issue.  Many LPTV stations feel that being forced incur the costs to covert to digital is premature and could imperil broadcast service, especially to rural areas and minority populations who rely on translators and LPTV stations, if spectrum repacking caused by any future repurposing of TV spectrum for broadband forces further technical changes.  These issues will be considered by the Commission this year.

Retransmission Consent Reform:  At the end of 2010, there was much controversy over retransmission consent issues, as there were instances where broadcasters and cable operators and other multichannel video programming distributors had difficult negotiations over the carriage fees to be paid to the TV stations.  FCC sources stated at the end of the year that a proceeding will be initiated to determine if the rules governing the negotiation process should be changed.  The multichannel video programming distributors and some public interest groups argue that the FCC should protect viewers who may have their TV service disappear if a TV station does not reach a deal with a MVPD, while the broadcasters argue that the ability to remove the station is the heart of the negotiation, and removing the risk of the MVPD losing the right to carry the station would negate the negotiation.  Look for this proceeding to commence early in the year but, as it will no doubt be very controversial, it may take some time to resolve.

DMA Boundary Issues:  The FCC has also begun a proceeding to look at DMA boundaries that cross state lines to see if every television viewer should be guaranteed to receive service from cable or satellite providers of a station in his or her state.  Television stations fear that this guarantee could upset traditional television markets, and could have an impact on retransmission consent negotiations in border counties.  Comments in this proceeding are due on January 24th, 2011.Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – What Washington Has In Store For Broadcasters in 2011