The FCC’s decision in its rural radio proceeding addresses numerous radio issues – some of which seem to provide a solution in search of a problem.  In an era where the President has called for agencies to review their decisions to access how they will affect businesses and job creation, some aspects of this rural radio decision appear to be moving in the opposite direction – imposing new hurdles on broadcasters trying to improve their operational facilities. While the FCC in this decision adopted largely uncontested rules that would promote the development of new radio stations on Tribal lands, the Commission also adopted rules making it harder for radio stations to move from more rural areas into more urban ones – rule that were almost universally condemned by broadcasters. The decision also restricted the ability of FM translators to “hop” from the commercial to the noncommercial band and vice versa, and adopted rules that codified the determination of how AM applications are determined to be “mutually exclusive” when filed in the same window for new or major change applications.  The changes to the procedures for consideration of AM and FM station allotment and movement are summarized below.  The other changes made in this proceeding will be discussed in a subsequent post on this blog.

Easily the most controversial of the decisions made by the Commission in this proceeding was the conclusions reached as to the movement of AM and FM radio stations from more rural areas into more urbanized ones.  We wrote about some of the concerns raised by broadcasters last week.  Many of the new rules and policies adopted by the Commission were ones feared by broadcasters – though many of the policies are still undefined, and how they are enforced may well determine their ultimate impact.  That impact may well take years to sort out.  Regardless of the ultimate impact on the actual movement of stations, there is no question that these rules will require far more paperwork from broadcasters seeking to allot new channels and from those seeking to change the cities of license of existing stations, and open more moves to challenge, making the process slower and more expensive.


Continue Reading FCC Adopts Rules Restricting Rural to Urban Radio Moves and Translator Band Hopping – And Adopts Tribal Area Preferences

A decision released by the FCC’s Media Bureau staff this week makes clear that the permittee of a noncommercial station, who was awarded the permit based on a 307(b) preference, cannot change transmitter sites so as to abandon service to the area that it promised to cover in order to get the preference –

Last month, the FCC released its proposal to restrict the movement of FM stations from rural areas into larger markets (which we summarized here).  The proposals that the FCC has put forward would greatly restrict the ability of broadcast owners to move stations to cover larger population areas – in many senses reversing the decision of the FCC just two

Rural communities – do their radio stations need government protection? The FCC seems to think so, proposing a series of new rules and policies that restrict the ability of the owners of rural radio stations to move their stations into Urban areas. These rules would make it harder for entrepreneurs to do “move in” applications – taking stations from less populated areas and moving them to communities where they can serve larger populations in nearby cities. The Commission states that it is making these proposals to attempt to live up to its obligations under Section 307(b) of the Communications Act to ensure a “fair, efficient and equitable” distribution of radio services to the various states and communities in the country. While this may be a noble goal, one wonders if it is a solution in search of a problem. Are there really rural communities that have an unmet demand for missing radio services – and which can economically support such services? And do these proposals conflict with other goals of the new Commission, by effectively decreasing the opportunities for minorities and other new entrants from acquiring stations in major markets – by taking away move-in stations that are often the only stations that these broadcast station owners can afford in urban markets?  These are questions that the FCC will need to resolve as part of this proceeding. 

A Section 307(b) analysis is done by the FCC when it faces conflicting proposals, specifying different communities of license, for new AM stations or requests for new FM allotments. It is also required when an applicant proposes to move a station from one community to another, as the applicant must demonstrate that the move to the new community would better serve the objectives of Section 307(b) than would the current location of the station. In the past, the 307(b)  analysis looks at several factors, or “Priorities.” These include:

 

  1. Service to white areas – when a proposed station will serve “white area,” an area where residents currently receive no predicted radio service (no “reception service” in FCC parlance). 
  2. Service to gray areas – when a proposed station will serve areas that currently receive only a single reception service
  3. Provision of a first local “transmission” service – where the proposed station will be the first station licensed to a particular community, and thus the first station that has the primary responsibility to serve the needs of that community
  4. Other public interest factors – usually meaning which proposal will provide the service to the most people (with service to “underserved areas,” i.e. those that receive 5 or fewer “reception services,” getting somewhat more weight).


Continue Reading FCC Proposes to Encourage Rural Radio By Making it More Difficult to Move Radio Stations to Urban Areas

In a very unusual process – one that is probably unprecedented – the FCC last week announced that it is opening a window for parties to file applications for a new AM station to serve Rockland County, New York.  AM stations are traditionally made available for filing on an on-demand basis – when the FCC accepts applications for new stations, parties can file in any location in the country, specifying any city of license that they select, as long as the station that they propose will not create interference to existing stations.  This is unlike FM and TV, where there is a two step process – new channels are first allotted at specific locations based on a party’s request, but that party gets no rights to the channel.  Instead, after the allotment has been made, anyone can file for in a specified window seeking a construction permit to build the new station.  In this window, the FCC has adopted a unique process for an AM stations, a process much more like that used in FM and TV.  The Commission had been asked by a party for permission to operate a new station in Rockland County.  Instead of simply permitting that party to build a station without competition, the FCC decided that a new station was necessary to provide emergency information about the nuclear power plant in the Rockland area, but determined that anyone could file for that channel.  Applications for the channel (1700 AM – on the expanded band, for which there have been no applications for almost 10 years since the first set of expressions of interest were taken), will be accepted from October 1 through October 5.

In order to give parties the ability to prepare applications, the FCC is imposing a freeze on the filing of minor change applications for AM stations throughout the country during the filing window.  Any minor change application that is filed during the window will be returned.  So if you are planning an application for a technical change to your AM station, you need to plan to avoid that filing window.


Continue Reading AM Filing Freeze While FCC Accepts Applications for a New AM in Rockland County, New York