Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • By a Public Notice issued on December 15, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau told broadcasters to submit

In the last few weeks, a Democratic Senator and a Republican FCC Commissioner have both expressed support for the future of AM radio.  This is not a new topic, being the subject of speculation for at least the last 20 years as FM listening caught up to and surpassed the older service’s audience.  But, when considering worldwide trends, a real question arises as to whether this inquiry is too narrow, and whether the FCC should not be taking more steps to insure the continuation of a free, local broadcast service.

In the last decade, the FCC has considered and, in many cases adopted, various proposals to revitalize the AM service – including providing FM translators for AM stations (see our articles here and here) and permitting all-digital AM operations (see our article here).  Other proposals, including one for across-the-board power increases for AM stations (see our article here) and another to lessen the interference protection enjoyed by high powered “clear channel” AMs, which would allow lower power local AM stations to increase nighttime power (see our article here), have not been adopted.  What new issues are being raised by these recent expressions of support from DC regulators?
Continue Reading Washington Worries About AM Radio – Senator Markey and Commissioner Simington Weigh in on the Future of the Service While Overseas There are Thoughts of Ending Broadcasting Altogether

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

Prometheus Radio Project, an advocacy group which has been active in lobbying for the interests of LPFM applicants and licensees, has asked that the FCC stay the April 10 effective date of the new rules liberalizing the location in which FM translators serving AM stations can locate (see its petition here). We wrote about those new rules here and here. Prometheus alleges that the liberalization in the rules will restrict the areas in which LPFM stations can locate their transmitter sites if the sites from which they currently operate become unusable. Their allegation is that the moves by these translators will “box in” LPFM stations at their current site. Based on this alleged harm, Prometheus asks for a stay of the effective date of the new rule while they appeal its adoption.

The petition does not say how this phenomena of “boxing in” LPFM stations will occur simply because translators can be located at distances greater than currently authorized. The new rules do not authorize new FM translators, and (contrary to some broadcast trade press reports published today) they do not give broadcasters another opportunity to move translators great distances from their current locations. All they do is change the rules so that, instead of limiting FM translators to the areas where their 1 mv/m contour does not extend beyond the lesser of the AM station’s 2 mv/m contour or a circle 25 miles from the AM station, the translator can operate in any area where its contour does not extend the 1 mv/m beyond the greater of the 2 mv/m contour or 25 mile circle. The new rules do not increase the permitted power of translators or in any other way significantly change their preclusive effect. In short, who is to say whether a translator will impose greater restrictions on LPFMs from their current locations or from locations authorized under the new rules?
Continue Reading Request Filed with the FCC to Stay Effective Date of New Liberalized Rules on the Location of FM Translators for AM Stations

Last month, we noted that there were a number of upcoming FCC actions on broadcast matters, as revealed in an article on the FCC’s blog. That article, by FCC Chairman Wheeler, promised that an order on the AM revitalization proceeding was in the works. Such an order is in fact circulating among the Commissioners for consideration and has been the subject of a significant amount of lobbying in recent weeks – mostly because the order apparently omits an application filing window exclusively for AM licensees to file for new FM translators to rebroadcast their signals in their service areas.

Based on ex parte filings (letters submitted to the docket file on the AM improvement rulemaking summarizing meetings held by interested parties with FCC Commissioners and other FCC decision-makers), it appears that that order circulating among the Commissioners omits the AM-only translator filing window, in line with the Chairman’s statements back in April that he does not want to set aside a window exclusively for AM stations to file for new FM translators (see our article here).  With the Chairman opposed, the new lobbying seems to be aimed at convincing other Commissioners to support the AM-only window, which many AM operators see as the one sure way to help preserve AM operations for the foreseeable future (perhaps until an all-digital operation becomes feasible). Even though the order apparently does not call for an AM-only window for FM translators, there does seem to be some recognition that translators can assist AMs in their operations.
Continue Reading Where Does the FCC’s AM Revitalization Order Stand?

Each year, at about this time, we pull out the crystal ball and make predictions of the issues affecting broadcasters that will likely bubble up to the top of the FCC’s agenda in the coming year.  While we try each year to throw in a mention of the issues that come to our mind, there are always surprises, and new issues that we did not anticipate. Sometimes policy decisions will come from individual cases, and sometimes they will be driven by a particular FCC Commissioner who finds a specific issue that is of specific interest to him or her.  But here is our try at listing at least some of the issues that broadcasters should expect from Washington in the coming year.  With so many issues on the table, we’ll divide the issues into two parts – talking about FCC issues today, and issues from Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the maze of government agencies and courts who deal with broadcast issues.  In addition, watch these pages for our calendar of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters in the next few days.

So here are some issues that are on the table at the FCC – starting first with issues affecting all stations, then on to TV and radio issues in separate sections below. 

General Broadcast Issues

There are numerous issues before the FCC that affect both radio and television broadcasters, some of which have been pending for many years and are ripe for resolution, while others are raised in proceedings that are just beginning. These include:

Multiple Ownership Rules Review: In April, the FCC finally addressed its long outstanding Quadrennial Review of the broadcast multiple ownership rules – essentially by punting most of them into the next Quadrennial Review, which probably won’t be resolved until 2016.  Issues deferred include any revisions to the local ownership limits for radio or TV (such as loosening the ownership caps for TV stations in smaller markets, which the FCC tentatively suggested that they would not do), any revision to the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule (which the FCC tentatively suggested that they would consider – perhaps so that this rule can be changed before the newspaper becomes extinct), and questions about the attribution of TV Shared Services Agreements (which the FCC is already scrutinizing under an Interim Policy adopted by the Media Bureau).
Continue Reading What Washington Has in Store for Broadcasters in 2015 – Part 1, What’s Up at the FCC

In 2011, licensees of FM translators who wanted to move those translators to areas where there was a need for their service thought that the FCC had done a great thing by authorizing the use of the “Mattoon” waiver (see our article here).  The Mattoon waiver allowed the processing of an FCC application to move the location of a translator as a minor change (meaning that it could be filed at any time, rather than having to wait for a window for the filing of major changes and new translator applications – the last of which opened in 2003) if the current and proposed interfering and protected contours of the stations overlapped.  Without the waiver, the rules deem a minor change to occur only when the protected 60 dbu contour of the station from the proposed and exiting sites overlap, allowing much smaller moves. But, as we have written before, the FCC now seems to be backing off the use of these waivers, and two recent decisions raise the question of whether the policy is doomed (as the Commission proposed in its AM improvement proposals, which we summarized here).

The use of the waiver in many cases eliminated the need for multiple “hops” of translators to get them from existing locations to the sites at which a broadcaster wanted to use them to provide service.  These hops would move the translator from the locations at which it was licensed to a new site, only to file another application as soon as the initial move was granted to move the translator yet again to get them to the location where a broadcaster wanted to use them to provide service.  In some cases, multiple intermediate hops were necessary to move the translator to the site at which its use was ultimately desired.  The Mattoon waiver allowed many site moves to be accomplished through a single application rather than requiring multiple hops, each of which cost the broadcaster time and money in filing multiple applications and in actually building the translator at multiple sites, and also saved the FCC the time and effort to process each of the applications necessary to approve these intermediate stops for the translator. 
Continue Reading The End of the Mattoon Waiver? – FCC Decisions Confirming Its Use Only for the Rebroadcast of AM Stations and Prohibiting Intermediate Site Changes

It is the beginning of another year – and a time to look ahead to look ahead at what broadcasters should expect from Washington in the coming year.  With so many issues on the table, we’ll divide the issues into two parts – talking about FCC issues today, and issues from Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington’s alphabet soup of regulatory agencies in the near future.  In addition, watch these pages for our calendar of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters in the next few days.

Each January, we publish a list of issues for the coming year, and it is not always the case that these issues make it to the top of various piles (literal or figurative) that sit in various offices at the FCC.  As set forth below, there are a number of FCC proceedings that remain open, and could be resolved this year.  But just as often, a good number of these issues sit unresolved to be included, once again, on our list of issues for next year.  While some issues are almost guaranteed to be considered, others are a crap shoot as to whether they will in fact bubble up to the top of the FCC’s long list of pending items. So this list should not be seen as a definitive list of what will be considered by the FCC this year, but instead as an alert as to what might be coming your way this year. Issues unique to radio and TV, and those that could affect the broadcast industry generally, are addressed below.
Continue Reading What’s Up in Washington For Broadcasters in 2014? — Part 1, FCC Issues

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the most immediate part of the FCC’s plan for the revitalization of AM radio – providing more FM translators for AM stations.  As the FCC has just announced the deadline dates for the filing of public comments on the reform proposals, setting the comment deadline for January 21 and the reply comment deadline on February 18, we thought that it was time to return to the subject to address some of the FCC’s other proposals.  As we mentioned in passing in our last article, the other proposals do not address any fundamental change in the AM service or anything that will necessarily help to overcome the interference issues that have made life difficult for many AM stations in an urban environment.  Instead, they look at ways to make current AM station operations easier.  In some ways, the order almost looks to be looking for ways to stem the loss of AM stations until a long-term  solution for the saving the service can be devised.

Revitalizing AM radio is not easy.  As the oldest radio service, the very things that made it attractive to the early days of radio – being able to reach vast areas of the country – now create problems.  The fact that AM stations have “skywave” signals that bounce off the atmosphere and travel hundreds, even thousands of miles, especially at night, also mean that their signals interfere with other stations on the same frequencies thousands of miles from their transmitter sites.  And, as more and more electronic “noise” has entered the environment, from relatively new technologies including florescent light bulbs to garage door openers and other wireless remote control devices, AM signals have proved to be especially susceptible to interference from these sources, especially in urban environments.  These problems are difficult to address without fundamental changes in the service.  But some quick fixes are possible to address more short-term needs of AM operators, and these are the kinds of issues addressed in the new rulemaking.
Continue Reading FCC Proposals for AM Radio Part 2 – Comment Deadline Dates, Site Moves and Unaddressed Questions