Last Friday we posted about the FCC’s announcement that it would open a filing window in December for noncommercial applicants interested in seeking authority for 67 existing vacant FM allotments. Today, the FCC revised the timing of that window and postponed the opening until February 2010. Accordingly, rather than accepting applications for these vacant noncommercial
The FCC today announced the opening of a filing window for noncommercial applicants interested in seeking authority for 67 existing vacant FM allotments. Applications on FCC Form 340 will be accepted from December 11th through December 18th for these vacant FM allotments in the non-reserved band between Channels 221 and 300. A full listing of the allotments that…
The FCC today adopted an Order revising its rules to permit the rebroadcast of AM radio stations on FM translator stations. A copy of the Order is available here. By this Order, the FCC formally adopted the interim policy that it has experimented with in the past year and a half since the release of the Notice of Proposed Rule Making in this proceeding. The Commission acknowledged that the interim rule has worked well and that allowing AM stations the same flexibility to use FM translators to enhance their service is in the public interest.
Per today’s Order: "Specifically, AM broadcast stations will be allowed to use currently authorized FM translator stations (i.e., those now licensed or authorized in construction permits that have not expired) to rebroadcast their AM signals, provided that no portion of the 60 dBu contour of any such FM translator station extends beyond the smaller of: (a) a 25-mile radius from the AM transmitter site; or (b) the 2 mV/m daytime contour of the AM station. In addition, AM broadcast licensees with Class D facilities will be allowed to originate programming on such FM translators during periods when their AM station is not operating."
Several things to note:
First, "currently authorized FM translators" means translator stations with licenses or permits in effect as of May 1st, 2009. As expected, there is no opportunity to seek authorization for new FM translators, and by extension, there was no need for the FCC to address the issue of priorities between LPFM stations and FM translators (which the FCC says it will address in the pending LPFM rule making). So this rule change simply allows existing FM translator stations to rebroadcast AM stations.
When the Low Power FM service was first authorized, it was as a "secondary service," though a recent court decision shows how that secondary status is becoming less and less a reality. A secondary service is traditionally one that can be allotted where there are no other uses for a particular frequency, and which is subject to being bumped off the spectrum should there be another demand for that spectrum by a "primary" user. LPFM stations were originally supposed to provide service to areas between full-power FM radio stations, and to be bumped off the air if there was a new FM station authorized or a change in the frequency or power of an existing station. A decision of the Court of Appeals released earlier this month , upholding an FCC order giving more protections to LPFM stations, puts this secondary service into question.
The Court decision upheld the Commission’s decision, about which we wrote here, determining that waivers of second adjacent channel interference limitations between LPFM and full power stations should be permitted to help preserve LPFM service. In addition, the Court upheld the FCC’s process in adopting a new "interim" policy which provides that, where an LPFM is providing 8 hours a day of local programming and would be knocked off the air by an upgrade or city of license change of a full-power station, the LPFM station could apply for a waiver of its secondary status, and there would be a rebuttable presumption in favor of such a waiver. If the waiver is granted, the LPFM station would be preserved, and the application of the full-power station dismissed. Thus, effectively, LPFM would no longer be secondary, but instead will have assumed a primary, protected status.
Last month, the FCC released a Public Notice requesting further comments on the proposal to increase the power of HD radio operations. We have written about that proceeding a number of times, including posts here and here. The increased power for the digital radio signals has been sought by many broadcasters who believe that current HD radio power levels do not produce strong enough digital signals to penetrate buildings and fully serve radio markets. On the other hand, other broadcasters fear that the increased power for the digital signals will create interference to existing analog stations operating on adjacent channels. Today, the FCC set the dates for the filing of these additional comments – comments are due on July 6, with replies due on July 17.
While comments have already been filed on the proposal to increase digital power, the FCC has raised a number of specific issues on which it wants comments, especially in light of the studies sponsored by NPR in cooperation with a number of other broadcasters, which seek to do a comprehensive review of the interference potential of higher powered digital operations. NPR is shooting to have that report to the FCC in September. The specific questions raised in the new FCC notice are:
- Whether the FCC should wait to decide on the power increase proposal until after the NPR study is done
- Whether current operations by radio stations operating in HD, and the various tests that have already been run, demonstrate the need for higher power operation on a permanent or provisional basis
- Whether new standards of interference to adjacent channel stations should be adopted, and if the interference should also protect LPFM stations
- Whether there should be specific procedures adopted to resolve any interference issues that do arise.
Rural communities – do their radio stations need government protection? The FCC seems to think so, proposing a series of new rules and policies that restrict the ability of the owners of rural radio stations to move their stations into Urban areas. These rules would make it harder for entrepreneurs to do “move in” applications – taking stations from less populated areas and moving them to communities where they can serve larger populations in nearby cities. The Commission states that it is making these proposals to attempt to live up to its obligations under Section 307(b) of the Communications Act to ensure a “fair, efficient and equitable” distribution of radio services to the various states and communities in the country. While this may be a noble goal, one wonders if it is a solution in search of a problem. Are there really rural communities that have an unmet demand for missing radio services – and which can economically support such services? And do these proposals conflict with other goals of the new Commission, by effectively decreasing the opportunities for minorities and other new entrants from acquiring stations in major markets – by taking away move-in stations that are often the only stations that these broadcast station owners can afford in urban markets? These are questions that the FCC will need to resolve as part of this proceeding.
A Section 307(b) analysis is done by the FCC when it faces conflicting proposals, specifying different communities of license, for new AM stations or requests for new FM allotments. It is also required when an applicant proposes to move a station from one community to another, as the applicant must demonstrate that the move to the new community would better serve the objectives of Section 307(b) than would the current location of the station. In the past, the 307(b) analysis looks at several factors, or “Priorities.” These include:
- Service to white areas – when a proposed station will serve “white area,” an area where residents currently receive no predicted radio service (no “reception service” in FCC parlance).
- Service to gray areas – when a proposed station will serve areas that currently receive only a single reception service
- Provision of a first local “transmission” service – where the proposed station will be the first station licensed to a particular community, and thus the first station that has the primary responsibility to serve the needs of that community
- Other public interest factors – usually meaning which proposal will provide the service to the most people (with service to “underserved areas,” i.e. those that receive 5 or fewer “reception services,” getting somewhat more weight).
The dates and minimum bids are set – and the next auction for new FM stations is a go for September 1, 2009. Applications 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.
The FCC today issued a long-awaited public notice, clarifying the relationship between FM educational stations and the analog Channel 6 TV stations that have or will be disappearing after the digital transition. As we’ve written before, the question of whether noncommercial FM stations could seek improvements in their facilities based on the imminent disappearance…
The FCC has released a public notice asking for comment on the procedures that it plans to use for a new FM auction now scheduled to be held in September. The channels to be included in that auction, and the proposed minimum bids for those channels, can be found on a list released by the Commission, here. Parties who are interested in bidding for any of these channels will be able to submit short form applications indicating the channels in which they are interested at some point to be determined in the future – probably late Spring or early Summer, so that the FCC can process those applications and receive the necessary upfront payments from parties interested in the auction in time for the auction itself to begin in September. Thus, parties who are interested in any of these channels should start their due diligence process now, and determine which channels may be of interest, and which channels can actually be built in such a way as to cover areas that an applicant may want to serve, so that they can be ready to file their applications, probably in May or June.
Applications, when filed, will not need to specify a specific transmitter site but, once the auction is over, winning bidders will need to quickly identify and file complete applications containing specific transmitter sites for which they have reasonable assurance. Thus, they should begin preparations for the auction now. Applicants who have identified a site can specify that site in their applications to protect it from subsequent applications. Thus, FM broadcasters should also anticipate a freeze on the filing of any FM technical applications at some point in late Spring in anticipation of the auction, in order to give applicants a stable technical situation so that they can identify usable transmitter sites.
The FCC has an open proceeding pending to allow AM stations to use FM translators. As we have written, while this proceeding continues, the Commission is allowing AM stations to rebroadcast their signals on FM translators on under Special Temporary Authority. In a case decided today, the FCC made clear that this is only…