city of license change

In May, the FCC voted to change its requirements for public notices of broadcast applications (see our post here) – standardizing the messages that must be conveyed to the public and eliminating the need for newspaper publication in those instances where it was still required.  The new rules also require that each commercial station include a link on its website to another webpage where public notice of pending applications is provided, and that link needs to be maintained whether or not a commercial station has any applications requiring public notice pending.  That decision will become effective tomorrow (October 30) based on its publication in the Federal Register today.  So we thought that we would revisit the summary we provided of the changes in the notice rules.

When a broadcaster files certain types of applications with the FCC, the public must be informed.  In May, the FCC issued its Order changing the rules regarding the public notice that must be given – consolidating what was a confusing process with different language and timing for notice about different types of applications into one providing standardized disclosures and scheduling for all public notices.  The decision (which is effective tomorrow) eliminates obligations for the newspaper publication that was required for some public notices.  It also requires the inclusion of a permanent “FCC Applications” link on the homepage of each commercial station’s website, whether or not they have any applications pending (noncommercial stations only need to include a link when they have applications pending and their stations are not operational and cannot broadcast the required notice).  Let’s look at some of the other changes that are now effective.
Continue Reading Changes to FCC Public Notice Requirements Effective October 30 – New Link Required on Commercial Station Websites

When a broadcaster files certain types of applications with the FCC, the public must be informed.  Last week, the FCC issued an Order which will change the rules regarding the public notice that must be given – consolidating what was a confusing process with different language and timing for notice about different types of applications into one providing standardized disclosures and scheduling for all public notices.  The decision (once it becomes effective) will eliminate obligations for the newspaper publication that was required for some public notices and also ended the obligation of broadcasters to give a “pre-filing public notice” before the submission of a license renewal application.  It will also require the inclusion of an “FCC Applications” link on the homepage of each commercial station’s website, whether or not they have any applications pending.  Let’s look at some of the changes adopted in last week’s Order.

First, the FCC did not change the requirements as to what applications require notice to the public.  Public notice is required for applications for new stations and major technical changes, for assignments (sales) or transfers of station licenses (except for pro forma changes where there is no real change in control over the station), for license renewal applications, minor change technical applications that involve a city-of-license change, and certain applications involving international broadcast stations or the export of programming to foreign stations to be rebroadcast back into the US.  Notice of designation for hearing of any application is also required.  We will concentrate here on the more common applications for changes to US stations, sale and license renewals.
Continue Reading Looking at Changes to the FCC’s Public Notice Requirements for Broadcast Applications

Despite the telework restrictions in place at the FCC, regulatory life goes on, with the Commission continuing to process applications and deliver decisions every day.  One of those decisions released yesterday clarified the FCC’s rural radio policy, and its application to noncommercial FM stations.  The rural radio policy was adopted a decade ago to preserve program diversity in rural areas by restricting the move of radio stations into more urbanized areas through city of license changes.  The policy restricts rural stations from changing their city of license to a location from which the station could place a principal city contour over 50% of any urbanized area (see our articles here and here for more details on this policy).  The decision yesterday upheld prior decisions in the same proceeding which concluded that, for noncommercial reserved-band stations, the appropriate contour to analyze is the 60 dBu contour.  If that contour would cover more than 50% of an urbanized area after a city of license change, the change will generally be prohibited for any station not now providing such coverage over an urbanized area.

The licensee in this case had argued that this decision was illogical, as the rural radio prohibition for commercial stations is only triggered when the 70 dBu contour covers more than 50% of the urbanized area – not the 60 dBu contour.  The FCC rejected that argument, saying that the policy being advocated was more appropriately raised in a rulemaking, not in an application case like this.  The FCC’s finding in this case would mean that two broadcasters, one commercial and one noncommercial, could propose moves from rural locations to the same new city of license and propose to operate from the exact same antenna with the exact same power levels and height above average terrain, and the noncommercial application would be denied as it would be deemed an application for the urbanized area because its 60 dBu contour covered more than 50% of that area, while the commercial station would be granted as its 70 dBu did not reach 50% of the urbanized area.  Two stations providing exactly the same service to the same urbanized area would be treated differently – one as if it serves the urbanized area, the other as if it would not.
Continue Reading FCC Clarifies Rural Radio Policy for Noncommercial FM Stations as Regulation Goes on Despite Telework Restrictions

The FCC’s Order released at the end of August deciding the issues in its Quadrennial Review of its ownership rules is over 100 pages long. The full document, with the dissents from the Republican Commissioners, required regulatory impact statements and similar routine attachments totals 199 pages. The Order addresses many issues. For TV, it declines to change the local ownership rules, readopts the decision to make Joint Sales Agreements into attributable interests (thus effectively banning them in many markets, though making some tweaks to the grandfathering of existing JSAs), and adopts new rules for reporting shared services agreements. The Order retains the newspaper-broadcast and radio-television cross-ownership rules. It takes limited new steps to encourage minority ownership (principally re-adopting the rule that allowed small businesses to acquire and extend expiring construction permits for new stations and to buy certain distressed properties, see our article about that old rule here), but does not adopt any racial or gender preferences for broadcast ownership. It also ends consideration of using TV channels 5 and 6 for the migration of AM radio and other new audio services including those targeted to new entrants into broadcast ownership (see one of our articles about that proposal here). And it rejects most proposals to change the radio ownership rules. Today, with the NAB Radio Show just two days away, we will look closer at the radio rules, and will cover many of these other aspects of the decision in coming days.

Perhaps the biggest “ask” for changes in the rules came from numerous radio groups that requested changes in the “subcaps” that apply to radio ownership. For instance, in the largest radio markets, one owner can hold up to 8 stations, but only 5 can be in any one service (AM or FM). Some parties had hoped to be able to own more FM stations in a market, particularly given the growing levels of competition in the audio marketplace from satellite and online radio. Some AM owners looked to hold more than the current maximum number of AMs in a market as a way to provide economies of scale that might help to preserve and strengthen the struggling AM radio industry. The Commission rejected such changes.
Continue Reading FCC’s Decision on the Quadrennial Review of the Multiple Ownership Rules – Part 1 – Radio Issues

Changing the city of license of an AM or FM station is getting more difficult, based on recent FCC decisions.  As we have written before, the FCC’s Rural Radio order changed the manner in which the FCC reviews city of license changes.  In connection with any proposed city of license change, the FCC reviews the proposal to make sure that the change will result in a favorable arrangement of allotments, making sure that the distribution of radio channels is in the public interest.  In making that decision, the FCC has relied on a series of priorities – first insuring that all areas of the country get at least two radio reception services (Priority 1 was to provide service to "white areas" that currently receive no radio service at all, Priority 2 was to provide a second reception service to all areas).  The next priority was to provide as many communities as possible with their first "transmission service", i.e. a station licensed to that community that would have a primary responsibility to address its needs and interests.  Finally, if there was no proposal to provide a first or second reception service or a first local transmission service, the FCC  looked at Priority 4 factors, i.e. other public interest matters.  In the past, service to a greater number of people itself was a Priority 4 consideration.  Based on a case released last week, service to a greater population apparently is no longer be viewed as justification for the change in the city of license of a radio station – even if the proposed move is from a rural community that already has a significant amount of service to a similarly well served urbanized area and results in a significant increase in the population served by the station.

The Rural Radio order changed the Priority 3 preference for a first transmission service by determining that any proposal for a city of license within an urbanized area would be viewed as being a proposal for service to the entire urbanized area (meaning that, instead of being a first local service to a named community, all the stations in the urbanized area would be considered as serving the same city). Thus, a proposal to take a station from a rural area (e.g. proposing to take the third radio station from some smaller rural town) to a city without a service in a urbanized area would no longer be viewed as providing the first local transmission service to the suburban community (but would instead be viewed as being a proposal to provide just another service to a metro area that probably already has many stations that are licensed to the various communities in the urbanized area).  Some had thought that, while Priority 3 would no longer justify such a move, a Priority 4 preference would be available if the move would allow the station to serve a much larger population, and if any loss area was already well served.  In the proposed move discussed last week, the Commission relied on language in the Rural Radio Order that stated that population increases alone would not be enough to justify a city of license change when a station proposed to move into an urbanized area.  In this case, the Commission’s staff found wanting a proposal to move from the well-served community of Boone, Iowa to a community in the Des Moines urbanized area – even though the proposed change would result in service to over 300,000 more people than are currently served by the station – increasing the number of people served by the station from less than 100,000 to over 400,000. The request was not denied outright, but instead the applicant was given another opportunity to supply additional information to demonstrate the public interest benefits that would result from the move. 


Continue Reading FCC Makes Changing City of License of Radio Stations More Difficult

Changing the city of license of a broadcast station was made more difficult by the FCC’s rural radio order.  That order, about which we wrote here, imposed substantial obstacles on broadcasters attempting to move their stations from rural areas into urbanized areas – making such moves difficult if not impossible in many cases. 

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

At the FCC meeting next week, the Commission will be considering an item dealing with radio stations that serve rural areas, and the ability of licensees to make technical modifications to those stations that would change the communities which they serve.  While, as we wrote last week, most of the attention of broadcasters has centered on the television issues to be considered at the meeting as the Commission is to begin an inquiry on the retransmission consent process.  The rural radio issue poses real concerns for radio operators – especially those contemplating a move of a radio station from a community outside of a metropolitan area to one in a metro.  In the name of protecting service to rural areas, the Commission may well restrict minority groups, specialty programmers, and other new entrants from bringing new services to metropolitan areas – permanently entrenching those companies who currently have major market stations as the only competition in those markets.  A proposal to protect service to rural areas may well have the impact of decreasing diversity in large markets.

In virtually every large market, there is little or no potential to add new channels for FM service both because of interference protections that need to be accorded to stations in the market and because of protections to stations outside of the market but close enough to be short-spaced to any potential station in the metro area.  In some cases, creative engineering has found ways for some of these non-metro stations to be moved into the metropolitan area, or at least close enough to provide some service to those markets.  "Move-in stations" have allowed new entrants, some with specialized programming, to provide service to large cities – when such entrants could never afford the price of an existing in-market station, even if one was for sale.  Even "rim shots", those move-ins that don’t provide full coverage of a metro area, may be very worthwhile for groups with unique formats (religion, Spanish language, and other targeted programming) trying to reach a small audience that is not otherwise going to get service in such markets.   


Continue Reading Restrictions on Moving Radio Stations From Rural to Urban Areas May Be Coming – What’s The Potential Impact?

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