FM translator interference

The FCC yesterday released a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, to be considered at its open meeting on May 10, seeking to add more specificity to its rules for the resolution of interference by new FM translators. The FCC attempts to set out new procedures that it would use to decide if applications for new translators can be granted, and if new translators already granted and constructed can continue to operate, when there are complaints that the new translator will cause interference to existing FM stations and to pre-existing translators and LPFMs. Under current rules, the FCC will deny the application of a new translator if there are regular listeners of another station within the 1 mv/m of the proposed new translator, and a newly constructed translator will be required to cease operations if it cannot resolve complaints of interference to the regularly used signal of any other operating station – even outside of that station’s protected contour. Even a single listener complaint of interference that cannot be resolved from a listener who is not affiliated with the station can cause the FCC to order that a new translator be shut down.

In response to petitions filed by the NAB and a Philadelphia-area translator operator (see our summary of those filings here), the FCC has drafted this NPRM that, if adopted at its May 10 meeting, will put forward for public comment a series of proposals to make the interference complaint resolution process quicker and more objective. There is a general perception, both among full-power broadcasters who have complaints about translator interference, and among translator operators whose operations may be in limbo if subjected to interference complaints, that the current FCC process simply takes too long and is subject to manipulation and unforeseeable outcomes. With over 1500 new translators for AM stations likely to start operations shortly, with many potentially subject to interference complaints, many broadcasters have suggested that the FCC needs to act quickly to make the current system more objective – and to allow it to resolve complaints more quickly.
Continue Reading FCC To Consider Proposal for New Rules on FM Translator Interference at Its May Meeting

At this week’s NAB Convention, issues about FM translators and pirate radio dominated the radio news from the sessions that featured FCC speakers. On the translator front, FCC Chairman Pai, in his speech to the convention, announced that there is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that has been drafted and is being considered by

For well over a decade, since the FM translator filing window of 2003, translators have been a controversial subject. While they have become more important to the broadcast ecosystem – especially as they now rebroadcast AM stations and HD-2 channels of FM stations – their use continues to be controversial, both because of the interference to other stations that is sometimes caused by new translators, and because of their perceived conflicts with LPFM applicants. With the recent announcement from FCC Chairman Pai that the first window for applications for new translators to serve AM stations that did not benefit from last year’s 250-mile waiver window will be accepted this summer, translators will only become more important to broadcasters (see the Chairman’s comments in his NAB speech, the text of which is here). Several recent actions indicate that policy issues dealing with translators will continue to be debated for at least the foreseeable future.

Two recent filings attempt to address the issue of interference between new or relocated translators and full-power stations. Issues arise from time to time, including some high-profile disputes in major markets, where new translators create, or are alleged to create, interference to full-power stations. Under the current FCC rules, any time a new or relocated translator creates interference to any regularly used FM signal, even outside of the usually protected contour of the full-power station, the translator is required to cease operations unless the interference can be remedied. In such situations, the translator licensee acknowledges the interference and changes facilities or channels to remedy it. But there are other cases where the reported interference objections have been challenged by the translator operator, as the alleged interference will occur far from the station claiming the interference, in areas where the translator operator suggests that no reliable FM signal from the protected station could really be received.
Continue Reading FM Translators Still Contentious – New Filing Window, Suggestions for Resolving Interference Complaints and a Request for Reconsideration of Relaxation of Rules on the Location of FM Translators for AM Stations

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

The FCC this week ordered an FM translator in Detroit to shut down as it caused interference to the reception of a full-power FM station from Toledo.  The translator had been rebroadcasting the HD2 signal of another area station, in effect introducing a new analog station in the Detroit area, to bring back a smooth jazz format that had left the city a few years ago.  But the translator caused interference to the reception of the Toledo station in areas where the Toledo station was regularly used and, in the eyes of the FCC, the translator’s operator was able to provide no relief to the complaining listeners.  Thus, it was ordered off the air.  Translators are required to shut down if they create interference to the regularly used signal of a full-power station, even outside of that station’s protected contour.  This happens somewhat regularly, so that part of the FCC decision is not particularly unique.  What is unique was that the FCC rejected attempts to resolve the interference by giving the complaining listeners mobile phones capable of picking up the Toledo station’s programming through a mobile "app" on the phone. The case also chastised the translator licensee for posting the names of the complaining listeners on its website.

As we wrote in a recent post, Section 74.1203 of the FCC rules requires that a translator cease operations if it interferes with the regularly used signal of a full-power FM station.  Objectors need to show that there are specific listeners who regularly listen to a full-power station, and that the translator creates interference to the reception of that signal in areas where these listeners had heard the station before the translator started to operate.  In the past, to get rid of these objections, translator operators have purchased the listeners who complain filters for their radios, or even new radios or other devices to overcome the interference objections.  In this case, the translator licensee went further when such traditional methods did not resolve the interference.  The translator operator bought the objectors mobile phones with an iHeartRadio mobile app that could receive the primary station (a Clear Channel station).  The FCC rejected that solution, finding that a non-broadcast solution to broadcast interference imperiled broadcast service – "a free over-the-air system that is and must remain a vital source of news, information and programming for all Americans" (emphasis in the original).  Thus, the translator was required to sign off unless and until it could resolve all interference claims.  Given that the Toledo station had only provided objections from those who complained about interference inside of the station’s protected contour, the FCC said that it would anticipate that many more objections would be submitted if it accepted the mobile app solution, and that it was likely that it would have to look at all sorts of different solutions to those future objections.  The Commission ordered the translator station off the air, and suggested that it might be difficult for it to restart operations on its current channel, which was co-channel with the Toledo station.


Continue Reading FM Translator for HD-2 Signal Shut Down By FCC After Interference Complaints – Can’t Remedy Complaint By Giving Phones With Internet App to Complaining Listeners