FM Translators and LPFM

On Friday, the Audio Division of the FCC’s Media Bureau released a letter decision rejecting an objection filed by three groups advocating on behalf of LPFM stations against almost 1000 FM translator applications – most of which were filed to provide FM translators for AM stations in the most recent window for the filing of such applications. We wrote about the grounds for the objections here, which included claims that Section 5 of the Local Community Radio Act, an act setting some ground rules for the relationship between LPFM stations and translators, mandated that the FCC evaluate each of these applications for its individual impact on LPFM opportunities in the future. Once the objection was rejected, the FCC resumed processing of pending applications.

The letter decision found numerous issues with the objection. It noted that 55 of the applications had already been granted when the objection was filed, and 35 had been dismissed, thus the objection came too late. Additionally, a number of the applications to which the objection was directed were mere minor changes in existing translators. The Audio Division noted that the Section 5 of the LCRA, which says that translators and LPFMs are equal in status and that the FCC needed to provide opportunities for each of those classes of stations, did not apply to evaluations of modifications of existing translators, but instead only to applications for new translators.
Continue Reading FCC Rejects LPFM Informal Objections Against Hundreds of Pending FM Translator Applications

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

The deadline for filing applications in the LPFM window has been extended as a result of the Federal government shutdown – with the new filing deadline being November 14 at 6 PM Eastern Time.  The FCC filing system is open now, so parties can go ahead prepare and actually submit their applications now. But as, during the shutdown, the FCC’s system was not available for research or application preparation, and as the FCC staff was not available to answer questions, the Commission gave applicants additional time in which to submit their applications.

During the shutdown, the FCC had been scheduled to have a webinar to further explain the application process and to answer questions about the rules applicable to LPFM.  Obviously, the shutdown prevented that from happening, so the FCC has now rescheduled the seminar for October 24 at 1 PM.  The webinar can be accessed here


Continue Reading FCC Extends LPFM Filing Window, New Dates for LPFM Webinar and Changes in LPFM Protections to FM Translator Inputs

The Federal government shutdown that we speculated about last week has now come to pass, and the clearest evidence is that, when you go to the FCC website, you are greeted by a special message essentially saying that the website is not available until after the shutdown ends. So, as we speculated last week, broadcast (and most other) applicants can’t even begin to prepare applications for filing when the government reopens, as the Commission’s CDBS database (as well as there other systems for filing electronic applications) is not available. Nor can you even access information about pending applications, pleadings that have been filed, or any of the other detailed information that is available on the FCC’s usually informative website. You’ll even note that links to FCC actions contained in many of the posts on this blog will not work, as the documents to which they link are resident on the FCC website. Similar notices are on most other government agency sites like, for instance, the Copyright Office site.

What is a broadcaster to do when they have an application or other deadline that falls during shutdown period? Stations sales will no doubt be closed, stations will be constructed with license applications due to be filed, there are license renewals that were due yesterday for radio stations in the Pacific northwest, Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific territories, and other pleadings and filings that are either now due, or will become due if the shutdown persists. One of the few documents that is available on the FCC’s site is a Public Notice on the Procedure for Filing in the Event of a Lapse in Funding, which provides a minimal amount of information about what is next. Beyond saying that the FCC is essentially closed, the notice does say that filings due during the shutdown would be due the day after the FCC returns to normal operations. The notice gives the example that, if funding is restored on a Monday, the FCC would return to normal operations on Tuesday, and filings due during the interim would be due on Wednesday. The Notice also states that, if there are issues restarting the electronic filing databases after the government reopens, further public notices will be issued, which presumably could further extend filing deadlines.


Continue Reading Now that the FCC Has Shut Down – What’s a Broadcaster to do?

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

Last week, acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn delivered a speech at the NAB Radio Show, which talked about new technology and old, and her affection for AM radio.  In the most newsworthy aspect of the speech, the Chairwoman announced that the FCC is currently considering a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to improve the service delivered by AM radio. As we wrote here, the issue of AM improvement has been a major initiative advanced by Commissioner Pai, looking to restore AM radio’s competitive posture.  Attention is needed to overcome some of the many obstacles that AM faces, including those from interference that has increased significantly in many metropolitan areas, causing more and more electronic “noise” that disrupts the AM service. The discussion at the Radio Show raised several proposals for AM relief. But will they really help AM stations?

First, it is important to understand that the Chairwoman was talking only about a series of proposed actions – nothing has yet been decided. There is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that is circulating at the Commission. This means that the proposal has been drafted and is being reviewed by the other Commissioners. Once they finish their review, the Notice will be released to the public, which will then have some period of time (probably a few months) to comment on the suggestions made by the Commission. According to the Chairwoman’s speech, and echoed by Commissioner Pai in an address that he delivered to the Radio Show, broadcasters will also be urged to come forward with their own ideas as to how to improve AM radio. All of the comments filed by the public will have to be digested before the Commission can actually implement any of them. With that background, what is to be proposed, and which actions will likely move the fastest?


Continue Reading AM Improvement Proposals Coming from the FCC – What is Coming and How Quickly?

On September 26, the FCC will hold its next open meeting and, according to a Public Notice released Friday, will consider several issues important to different parts of the broadcast industry. For television broadcasters, there will be concerns about the proposal to do away with the “UHF discount,” which gives UHF stations a 50% discount in determining the number of households they reach when determining an owner’s compliance with the limitation that prevents any one company from owning television stations that reach more than 39% of the US television households. For radio, the FCC will be getting a report on the preparations for the upcoming LPFM window, allowing applications nationwide for new LPFM stations. That window, as we have written before, is to open from October 15-29. Finally, the FCC will be looking at modifications to its Antenna Structure Registration process – which could be important to all tower owners.

As the UHF discount issue is to be considered by the adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, it is no doubt the more controversial of the broadcast issues to be discussed at the meeting. The discount was adopted by the FCC in analog days, when UHF broadcasters faced significant disadvantages. Analog UHF signals (TV channels 14 and above) simply did not travel as far as VHF signals, were less likely to penetrate buildings (especially as many over-the-air antennas were designed for VHF reception), and were far more costly than VHF operations (as VHF transmitters operated at far lower power levels than do transmitters for UHF operations). But, in the digital world, broadcasters found that the world had been turned on its end – with UHF signals being far preferable, as the VHF digital signal was found to be far more susceptible to interference, especially in urban areas. In the less forgiving digital environment (where a signal is either there or not, instead of the degraded "snowy" picture that you could get in the analog world), the UHF signal is generally preferred – despite the higher power costs and the fact that the signals still don’t travel as far.


Continue Reading FCC Meeting to Consider UHF Discount on National TV Multiple Ownership Rules, LPFM Window, and Tower Registration Issues

In a decision issued last week, the FCC ruled on 6 applications for LPFM stations from the last LPFM window, dismissing all of them, and warning potential applicants in the upcoming LPFM window to pay attention to the decision so that they can avoid similar issues with their applications. The dismissal of four applicants was the result of those applicants not being legally registered as nonprofit corporations in their states at the time of the FCC filing of their FCC applications. One applicant was dismissed for failing to respond to a Commission request for information in a timely basis. The dismissal of another was upheld based on the applicant’s failure to obtain reasonable assurance of the availability of its transmitter site prior to the submission of its application. These decisions thus resulted in 6 applicants losing their chance to operate LPFM stations in their markets.

Incorporation at the time of filing was deemed important in four cases for different reasons. In connection with two applicants, the failure to be incorporated was deemed fatal to the applications as the application requires a certification at the time of filing that the applicant is either incorporated or in some other form recognized by state law as an existing nonprofit educational entity (or that it is a governmental organization). That existing noncommercial status is required by law. Both applicants falsely certified that they had been incorporated at the time of filing, when in fact they had not. As they had not met the statutory mandate at the time of filing, they were dismissed. In the third case, a group tried to claim that its pre-incorporation activities qualified it as “an unincorporated organization” under state law. But the FCC found that the pre-incorporation activities were simply organizational in nature, and did not qualify the group for a license. 


Continue Reading LPFM Decisions Upholding Dismissal of Several Applicants Give Warning to Applicants in Upcoming Window

Another month is upon us, along with all of the FCC regulatory obligations that accompany it. August brings a host of license renewal obligations, along with EEO public file obligations in a number of states, as well as noncommercial Biennial Ownership Report filings in several states. We also expect that the FCC will notify stations of the date for the payment of their regulatory fees (which will either be due late this month or early next). As we reported yesterday, the filing of long-form translator applications for over 1000 applicants from the 2003 FM translator window also comes at the end of the month. There are comments due in a number of FCC proceedings. We’ll talk about some of those issues below. For TV broadcasters, we also suggest that you review our article that recently ran in TV NewsCheck, updating TV broadcasters on issues of relevance to them not only this month, but providing a description of the full gamut of issues facing TV broadcasters. We prepare this update for TV NewsCheck quarterly.

Today brings the deadline for the filing of license renewal applications for radio stations in California and for TV stations in Illinois and WisconsinStations in these states, and in North and South Carolina also have EEO public inspection file reports that should be placed in their public inspection files no later than today. Noncommercial TV stations in Illinois and Wisconsin also need to file Biennial Ownership Reports today, and noncommercial radio stations in California, North Carolina, and South Carolina should also file their Biennial Ownership Reports by today.


Continue Reading August FCC Regulatory Deadlines for Broadcasters – Including Renewals; EEO; Comments on Indecency, the Online Public File and Cross-Ownership