An FCC letter to the licensee of an FM translator owner asking very specific information about a series of applications to move that translator to a larger market raises question as to whether the FCC is shutting the door on moves of translators from one market to another – where they have often been used to rebroadcast the signal of an AM or an FM HD signal, adding new competition.  While this letter does not explicitly say that multi-hop moves of translators are impermissible under FCC rules, the fact that an investigatory letter from the FCC to one applicant is published in the FCC’s general releases indicates that a message is being sent by the Commission.  And the letter questions whether the large move accomplished by a series of small hops is an abuse of the FCC’s processes.  The letter asks for the details of each move in the series – where the station was built, who gave permission to use the transmitter sites that were used, how long the station operated at each location, what primary station’s signal did the translator rebroadcast at each site, and what the applicant’s ultimate purpose in the moves was.  

We’ve written about the FCC’s apparent crackdown on FM translator moves – first by simply slowing the processing of such applications, then entering into a consent decree with a monetary penalty and the forfeiture of a translator license by a translator licensee who apparently did not have reasonable assurance of every transmitter site in a multi-hop move, then suggesting that such moves were an abuse of process (while, at the same time, making more limited moves easier).  Now  it seems to be actually taking steps to enforce the thinking that, where there is an intent to accomplish a "major change by multiple minor change applications", there is an abuse of process.  Thus, the FCC seems to be drawing the noose tighter around the ability to move these stations large distances.

The FCC, when it authorized the use of FM translators for AM stations  did so with the caveat that only translators that had been granted as of the date of its 2009 order would be allowed to be used for such rebroadcasts.  In many markets, this put a premium on existing translators, as there were not enough translators to rebroadcast all the stations that wanted to be rebroadcast – even where the spectrum to locate such translators existed.  A number of broadcasters found translators in other communities that could technically fit in the community where the broadcaster operated, and agreed to buy them if they could be moved.  Outside a "major change window", translators can only be moved by "minor changes", i.e. where their existing contour overlaps the proposed new contour.  During translator windows, larger moves are permitted, but the last translator window was in 2003.  Another is not expected for at least another year or, most probably, two or more.  To get around the limitation on major changes, translator licensees would file a series of minor change applications to move a translator from one site to another (commonly referred to as a "hop"), build the translator at each site, and, through a series of minor changes, ultimately move to the city where there was an AM station or HD signal that wanted to use that translator.  For a time, the FCC seemed fine with this process.Continue Reading FCC Letter Questions Multi-Hop Move of FM Translator – Limits on Availability of Translators for AM Stations?

The FCC today made it easier to move an FM translator from one location to another, but at the same time adopted new policies that seemingly restrict how far a translator can be moved.  Today’s decision  uses a waiver process to relax the rules so as to permit a move of a translator a greater distance in a single application, but the decision also labels multi-hop moves as an abuse of the Commission’s processes.  As translators have become more important to broadcasters as a way to bring AM and HD-2 signals to a wider audience, this decision will have an immediate and significant impact on many broadcasters, once it becomes clear exactly what are the parameters set by the Commission.

Under Section 74.1233(a) of the FCC rules, a minor change for an FM translator requires that the facilities proposed in an application have a 60 dbu contour that overlaps with the translator’s current licensed 60 dbu.  In effect, this is saying that part of the protected service area of the proposed new facility must overlap with the current protected service area served by the station from its licensed facility.  As major change applications can only be filed during designated translator windows (and there has been no FM translator major change window since 2003), to make any move in a translator, it must be a minor change.  The decision today allows, through a waiver of the rules, a minor change application to be used if the licensed facilities preclude construction of the new facilities, i.e. if the interfering contour of the licensed facilities of the translator overlap with the protected contour specified by the application for new facilities.  A the interfering contour goes much further than the protected contour, this allows the FCC to approve in a single application a move of a greater distance than would be allowed under a strict reading of the rule.  However, there were significant conditions imposed on the application of this new waiver policy that may preclude longer moves that have been common in the last few years. Continue Reading New Policy on FM Translator Moves – Bigger Moves Permitted In One Hop, But Multiple Hops are an Abuse of FCC Processes