The dates and minimum bids are set – and the next auction for new FM stations is a go for September 1, 2009Applications to participate in the auction are due during the period June 16 to June 25, and must be filed electronically at the FCC, specifying on which of the 122 available channels an applicant is interested in bidding. Full, detailed auction instructions can be found in the FCC’s Public Notice, and the list of available channels and the minimum bids for each is available here. To give time for applicants to prepare their applications, the Commission has also initiated a variety of freezes on the filing of certain FM applications.

A freeze on any application or Petition for Rulemaking seeking a change in the channel of any channel proposed for use in this auction has been imposed effective immediately. Applications that shortspace any of the reference points for any of these stations are also barred. A subsequent freeze on the filing of any minor change application by an FM licensee will also be imposed during the June window. These freezes are to give applicants for channels the opportunity to evaluate which channels are worth bidding for, and to specify specific transmitter sites for certain channels (different than the reference coordinates) which will be protected during the auction process. Thus, applicants who see the potential for an increase in value of one of these channels that may come through the location of the station at a particular transmitter site can specify that site, protecting it and the value that they see. 


Continue Reading Rules for September Auction for New FM Stations Set – Application Filing Deadline Is June 25

I just finished speaking on a panel at the Radio Ink Convergence ’09 conference in San Jose.  My panel was called "The Distribution Dilemma: Opportunities, Partnership and Landmines."  As the legal representative, my role was, of course, to talk about the landmines.  And one occurred to me in the middle of the panel when a representative of Ibiquity, the HD Radio people, about one of the opportunities available for the multicast channels available in that system, where an FM radio operator can, on one FM station, send out two or three different digital signals.  The particular opportunity that was discussed was the ability to bring in outside programmers to program the digital channels, specifically talking about a recent deal where a broadcaster had entered into a deal with a company that would be brokering a digital channel in major markets, and programming that station with a format directed to the Asian communities.  Broadcasters are generally familiar with the fact that, when they broker their traditional analog broadcast station to a third party, the licensee remains responsible for the content that is delivered in that brokered programming – e.g. making sure that there are no payola, indecency, lottery or other legal issues that pop up in that brokered programming.  Broadcasters need to remember that that same responsibility applies to multicast streams, whether they are on HD radio or on a multicast stream broadcast by a digital television station.  These stream are over-the-air broadcast channels subject to all FCC programming rules.

Foreign language programming has traditionally presented programming issues for broadcasters.  In the 1970s and 1980s, there were multiple cases where broadcasters actually lost licenses because there was illegal activity taking place in brokered programming.  In these cases, the programming contained illegal content and the licensee had no way to monitor the content of the programs as the licensee had no one on staff who spoke the language in which the programming was produced.  The FCC basically said that the licensee had the responsibility to be able to monitor all programming broadcast on its station – so they had abdicated their responsibility to keep the station in compliance with FCC rules by not knowing what was being said in the brokered programming.


Continue Reading Caution on Multicast Streams – Remember It’s Still Over-the-Air Broadcasting

The FCC’s has published in the Federal Register certain aspects of its November decision on closed captioning – most notably the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking if a broadcaster’s multicast streams should each count as a separate "channel" potentially exempt from closed captioning requirements if that channel doesn’t bring in more than $3 million

Come the New Year, we all engage in speculation about what’s ahead in our chosen fields, so it’s time for us to look into our crystal ball to try to discern what Washington may have in store for broadcasters in 2009. With each new year, a new set of regulatory issues face the broadcaster from the powers-that-be in Washington. But this year, with a new Presidential administration, new chairs of the Congressional committees that regulate broadcasters, and with a new FCC on the way, the potential regulatory challenges may cause the broadcaster to look at the new year with more trepidation than usual. In a year when the digital television transition finally becomes a reality, and with a troubled economy and no election or Olympic dollars to ease the downturn, who wants to deal with new regulatory obstacles? Yet, there are potential changes that could affect virtually all phases of the broadcast operations for both radio and television stations – technical, programming, sales, and even the use of music – all of which may have a direct impact on a station’s bottom line that can’t be ignored. 

With the digital conversion, one would think that television broadcasters have all the technical issues that they need for 2009. But the FCC’s recent adoption of its “White Spaces” order, authorizing the operation of unlicensed wireless devices on the TV channels, insures that there will be other issues to watch. The White Spaces decision will likely be appealed. While the appeal is going on, the FCC will have to work on the details of the order’s implementation, including approving operators of the database that is supposed to list all the stations that the new wireless devices will have to protect, as well as “type accepting” the devices themselves, essentially certifying that the devices can do what their backers claim – knowing where they are through the use of geolocation technology, “sniffing” out signals to protect, and communicating with the database to avoid interference with local television, land mobile radio, and wireless microphone signals.


Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – The Outlook for Broadcast Regulation in 2009

At last Tuesday’s FCC meeting, the Commission adopted a controversial order, over the objection of two Commissioners, that could limit the processing of some applications for improvements by some full power FM stations, and would restrict translator applications, all in the name of encouraging Low Power FM (LPFM) stations to provide outlets for expression by groups that cannot get access to full-power radio stations (see our summary of that action here).  In recent weeks, two ideas have received some publicity providing an alternative outlet for these prospective local broadcasters – and both provide a simple solution (one more immediate and ad hoc than that other), but both leading to the same result – why not just extend the FM band by using TV channel 6?

The current FM band begins at 88.1 MHz, a channel that is actually immediately adjacent to TV Channel 6.  The FCC has for years restricted operations of noncommercial FM stations (which operate from 88.1 to 91.9 on the FM dial) in areas where there are Channel 6 TV stations in order to prevent the radio stations from creating interference to the reception of the TV stations.  That’s while you will often find fewer noncommercial stations, or ones with weaker coverage, in communities that have TV Channel 6 licensees.  TV stations use an FM transmission system for their audio.  Thus, you will also find that most FM receivers (especially ones without digital tuners) will pick up the audio from TV channel 6 if tuned all the way to the left of the dial.  The short-term solution to expanding the FM band came from one broadcaster who noted that fact.


Continue Reading Who Needs LPFM? – Why Not Just Expand the FM Dial?

Two weeks ago, we wrote about the FCC’s proposal for the auction of the 700 MHz band – the portions of the spectrum that will be reclaimed from television operators after the digital transition.  These channels will be used to provide some form of wireless broadband service. The Commission made its decision on the use of this spectrum last week, reserving at least some of the spectrum for “open access” uses – where the provider will not be able to restrict the devices that can access the network, nor limit or block services that run on the network, as long as the devices and services do not cause damage to the network.  In theory, this will encourage the creation of numerous new devices and services to capitalize on the open wireless network being provided.  While the Commission has not released the full test of this decision yet, a memo from our firm, describing some of the decisions announced at the FCC open meeting and in the subsequent public notice, can be found here.

Whether the provisions that the Commission adopted will be sufficient to entice some of the Internet “content” companies, like Google, to bid, remains to be seen. But this “beachfront spectrum” will no doubt introduce some exciting new uses as it begins to come into operation in the next few years – providing more people more wireless access to mobile content – and more competition to those traditional wireless industries that many consumers have forgotten are both wireless and mobile – those provided by traditional broadcasters. 


Continue Reading 700 MHz Reclaimed TV Spectrum Auction Rules Adopted – A Preview