Last week, the FCC started a new proceeding through the adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to review several restrictions that currently apply to Low Power FM stations.  While doing so, it will also review the current rules, dating from the analog television days, restricting certain FM operations in the non-commercial reserved band of the FM dial where those operations are near Channel 6 TV stations.  Comments will be due on this proposal 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, with Replies due 15 days later.

The LPFM proposals look at a number of issues.  The Commission asks if LPFM stations should be allowed to operate with directional antennas, which are currently routinely barred given that these antennas may be more difficult to operate and maintain.  When the rules were originally adopted, there was a fear that LPFM licensees, who may not have a technical background or substantial resources for engineering support, could not maintain those antennas so as to protect other FM stations operating on the same and adjacent channels.  Similar concerns currently limit LPFM stations from using on-channel boosters to fill in holes in their service area.  The FCC asks if these prohibitions can be lifted as the LPFM industry has become more mature, allowing LPFMs to use both directional antennas and on-channel boosters without risking increased interference to other stations.
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Late last week, the FCC advanced a number of proposals on how it will deal with LPTV stations and TV translators after the incentive auction and the repacking of the TV spectrum into whatever channels are left after part of the TV band is repurposed for wireless uses.  The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking raises a number of issues, including the potential for delaying the mandatory digital transition for LPTV stations and translators that continue to operate in analog.  The FCC also suggested a post-auction window for LPTV and translator stations to file for displacement channels if there current operations are no longer possible after the repacking of the TV band.  It also addressed the potential for LPTVs on Channel 6 being able to transmit, post-digital transition, an analog audio channel so that “Franken FMs” (“radio stations” received on FM radio receivers on 87.7 that really are the audio portion of the LPTV’s programming), can continue. 

Comments on these proposals will be due 30 days after publication of the Notice in the Federal Register, with reply comments 15 days thereafter.  Presumably, as the incentive auction is fast approaching, as is the current deadline for mandatory September 1, 2015 digital conversion of these stations (which we wrote about here when the deadline was adopted), the FCC will act quickly on the proposals that have been made.  So just what are the proposals on which the FCC is asking for comment?
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The FCC denied reconsideration on the last phase of the digital television transition – requiring that all LPTV stations and TV translators cease analog operations and be operating digitally by September 1, 2015. See our summary of the original ruling on the digital conversion of LPTV and TV translator stations here. In denying reconsideration, the FCC determined that the September 1, 2015 date will hold – denying requests that the final decision be postponed while the FCC considers the repacking of the television band as part of the incentive auction process to clear part of the TV spectrum for wireless broadband purposes. The FCC also noted that some parties wanted to keep operating in an analog mode on TV channel 6, as the audio can be received by FM receivers (so-called "Franken FMs"). The Commission determined that using Channel 6 to provide an audio service this was not a sufficient reason to keep analog operations on TV channels alive past the deadline that they have established. (See our articles about these hybrid LPTV/FM stations, which take advantage of the fact that Channel 6 is adjacent to the FM band and that analog TV used an FM audio system, here).

The Commission did note that, in response to some petitions for reconsideration, that any LPTV station or translator moving to Channel 6 for digital operations be required to protect noncommercial FM stations that would be operating on adjacent frequencies. While the Commission does not expect that such interference will occur frequently, they made clear that LPTV and TV translators are secondary services, and they cannot continue to operate if they cause interference to primary services, including primary noncommercial FM stations.


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