Common Frequency and Prometheus Radio Project have once again filed with the FCC a request to halt the processing of hundreds of still-pending FM translators from the last translator filing window. The pending applications are the last remaining application from the window which allowed AM stations to seek FM translators to rebroadcast their signals. The
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
More LPFMs are on the way, and broadcasters have 30 days to file any objections to the coming new stations. In an order just released by the FCC, the FCC applied its “point system” to select the winning applicant in groups of mutually exclusive applications filed in the recent LPFM window in Western states (as far east as Nebraska and Kansas). Future selectees in other parts of the country will come in later public notices. This notice starts the clock on several dates – including a 30 day petition to deny period where full-power stations can raise issues of interference and other issues against applicants, and applicants can raise issues against each other. The notice also sets a 90 day window for LPFM applicants whose applications were under consideration in this notice to file applications to make changes in their applications – including major changes to new frequencies or different transmitter sites.
The FCC’s notice consists of three documents. First, there is a description of the action taken by the FCC setting out how the points were awarded to applicants, the options now available to the applicants based on the point system determinations, and the deadlines for the Petitions. Next, there is a list of the applications that were considered, highlighting the winning applicant in each group of mutually exclusive applicants (or the winning applicants if there was a tie under the point system analysis). The third document lists all of the applicants on the list who requested waivers of the spacing requirements to full-power stations on second-adjacent channels. Licensees of full-power stations serving areas near these proposed stations should review these applications carefully.…
Continue Reading FCC Applies Point System to Resolve Conflicts Between Mutually Exclusive LPFM Applications – Sets Deadlines for Petitions to Deny and Amendments to Applications
The relationship between low power FM stations and both FM translators and full-power FM stations will be addressed by the FCC at its open meeting on November 30 – the only issues on the FCC’s agenda for that meeting. We expect that two controversial matters will be discussed – (1) the effect that the thousands of FM translators that remain pending from the 2003 translator window will have on LPFM availability and how to deal with those applications and (2) the interference considerations between translators and full-power stations, including issues such as second-adjacent channel interference waivers and the situations in which LPFM interference to full-power stations will require that the LPFM cease operations. For LPFM advocates and applicants, issues are also outstanding about the qualifications for LPFM applicants in an upcoming (yet-to-be announced LPFM filing window), including whether there will be obligations placed on LPFM operations for specific amounts of local program origination.
The FM translator issue has been a long and contentious one. In 2003, during the last FM translator window, thousands of applications for FM translators were filed. LPFM advocates have contended that the grant of these applications would preclude LPFM opportunities. After processing applications for a couple of years, the FCC froze the processing of all the remaining applications, and in 2007 announced that applicants would only be able to prosecute 10 of their remaining pending applications. There were many objections filed to that decision. Last year, the FCC announced a much more granular process for determining which translator applications could be processed, looking on a market-by-market basis at the prospects of LPFM interference, and deciding that translator applications would only have to be dismissed where interference limited LPFM opportunities for a given number of LPFM stations. The Commission also decided that a cap of 50 applications should be imposed on the number of applications that one entity could continue to prosecute, and limited applicants to prosecuting one application per market. See our summary of the FCC decision on the translator-LPFM issues here. These issues are all subject to petitions for reconsideration.
Determining how much interference to full-power FM stations is acceptable from LPFM stations is perhaps, in the long run, one of the most important issues discussed in the FCC’s two orders released two weeks ago clarifying the rules for LPFM stations. The FCC’s proposals on this issue, and several others, has now been published in the Federal Register, asking for public comments by May 7, with reply comments due May 21. As we detailed when we wrote about the proposals that have now been published in the Federal Register, while the FCC did away with strict mileage limitations on third-adjacent channel spacings between LPFM stations and full-power FMs as required by the Local Community Radio Act ("LCRA"), it did not totally eliminate all interference requirements. Instead, it proposed a two-tier system requiring more remediation efforts by LPFMs that operate at less than what had been the required spacings, and lesser interference for stations that did observe the old mileage separations. The May 7 comment deadline also applies to comments on the FCC’s proposals for second-adjacent channel waivers of the required spacings between LPFMs and full-power FM stations, and on changes to the service rules for LPFMs – including allowing them to operate at powers as high as 250 watts ERP in rural areas.
The ruling eliminating the third-adjacent channel spacing rule as required by the LCRA was published in the Federal Register yesterday, meaning that the rule becomes effective on June 4, but practically that should mean little until the FCC addresses the interference-complaint resolution issues addressed in the Further NPRM. The abolition of the third adjacent channel spacing rules did leave in place one limitation, that LPFM stations cannot cause more interference than they can under present rules for stations that offer reading services for the blind.
The Further NPRM also addresses second adjacent channel interference, proposing very strict rules that require an LPFM to cease operations if it creates any interference to a regularly used FM signal – even outside of the full-power station’s protected service contours. This is essentially the FM translator interference requirement – which has, in the past, caused many translators to cease operations or change their technical facilities to protect full-power stations. Further details on this proposal are available in our summary of the order. That summary, however, did not address the proposed changes in the LPFM service rules, which we address below.
In part one of our report on the FCC’s recent actions on LPFM issues, we wrote about the FCC decisions about what to do with pending FM translator applications that may have an impact on LPFM availability. In this part two, we discuss the Commission’s separate order addressing the provisions of the Local Community Radio Act eliminating third-adjacent channel spacing restrictions between LPFM stations and full-power stations and otherwise modifying the interference protection standards that apply to these stations. In a third part of this series, to be published soon, we will report on the proposals for changes in the LPFM service rules.
The impetus driving Congress in its adoption of the Local Community Radio Act ("LCRA") was the desire of LP FM advocates for the elimination of all third-adjacent channel protections between LPFMs and full-power FM stations. While the statutory changes mean that LPFM stations do not need to be spaced at any particular distance from third-adjacent channel FM stations, the changes do not completely eliminate all interference protections afforded to full-power stations. In fact, the LCRA sets up a very extensive scheme where LPFM stations must work to resolve any interference that is created to adjacent channel full-power station. The Commission set forth its reading of the statutory requirements, summarized below, and asked for public comment on that interpretation.
The status of LPFM stations has been up in the air almost since they were first created over a decade ago, as the FCC has been slow to open a window for filing applications for new stations while controversies about interference with full-power FM stations and FM translators, and other issues, were being hashed out. This past week, the FCC issued two orders interpreting the Local Community Radio Act ("LCRA") passed by Congress in late 2010 (which we summarized here), and clarifying other issues affecting the service. This article will discuss the first of the two orders – attempting to resolve the priorities between LPFM stations and the thousands of applications for new FM translators still remaining to be processed from the FCC’s 2003 FM translator window. Subsequent articles will discuss the second order (which also contains a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking for public comment on several proposals). That order and NPRM addresses the interference protections between LPFM and full-power FM stations, the elimination of third-adjacent channel protections, and proposes some changes in LPFM rules, including proposals to allow LPFM stations to operate with up to 250 watts ERP in smaller markets, and even to operate FM translator stations of their own.
The first order attempts to resolve the issues about the FM translator applications that have been pending since 2003. LPFM advocates contend that the thousands of applications that remain to be processed will foreclose LPFM opportunities, particularly in larger markets, by using up all available spectrum. The translator applicants, on the other hand, have contended that translators provide an important service – expanding the reach of noncommercial stations and now allowing new outlets to more readily make available to the public the signals of AM stations and FM HD streams. The order sets out markets where the FCC has found that spectrum is indeed limited for LPFM opportunities, where translator applications will be dismissed to provide opportunities for a certain base level of LPFM service. The order does not fully adopt the system proposed in the FCC’s July NPRM in this matter (see our summaries here and here) which would have required the blanket dismissals of all translator applications in spectrum limited markets. Instead, it provides opportunities for some translators to be processed even in these markets with limited LPFM opportunities, where it can be shown that these translators do not in fact block such opportunities. This is detailed below, as are the rules that the FCC has adopted which set local and national limits on the number of applications from the 2003 window that one applicant can continue to process and some changes in the rules regarding FM translator use by AM stations.
The long-brewing debate between Low Power FM advocates and FM translator applicants is on the FCC’s tentative agenda for its March open meeting, to be held on March 21. The FCC’s agenda includes two items. The first deals with the priorities between the potential spectrum available for LPFM stations and the pending applications for FM translators left to be processed from the 2003 FM translator window. This follows up on the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued in July, proposing to process all of the translator applications pending in certain markets, while dismissing all of the applications remaining in other markets where it appears that spectrum available for LPFM is very limited, and where the grant of translator applications would block LPFM opportunities.
The second item deals with the future processing of LPFM applications in light of the passage of the Local Community Radio Act (summarized here). The LCRA, among other things, lifted the prohibition against predicted third-adjacent channel interference from LPFM stations to full-power FM stations, and also provided for waivers of second adjacent channel interference in instances where the new LPFM would not create any actual interference to other FM users. Where interference would be created, there would be a strict policy, like that which applies to translators, that the LPFM would have to cease operations if there were any interference to a regular user of an FM station – even outside of the station’s protected contour. The second item to be addressed by the Commission will give details on how they plan to implement the requirements of the LCRA.
The adoption of these two items will clear the way for a new window for LPFM applications – perhaps later this year. In anticipation of that window, an LPFM advocacy group recently issued a press release indicating that they expected 10,000 new LPFM applications to be filed in an upcoming FM window. Is that number realistic? Who knows, though we’d be surprised if there was really that much pent up demand, especially given the ownership limits on LPFM applications, essentially limiting most parties to one application. But if anything even approaching that number of applications is filed, look for potential problems in the FM band.
The FCC just issued a public notice extending the comment deadline in its proceeding to determine how to process the FM translator applications pending from the 2003 FM translator window so as to not unduly preempt opportunities for new LPFM stations. Comments were originally due to be filed today, but the deadline has now…
At today’s FCC open meeting, the Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rule Making ("NPRM") to begin the process of implementing the Local Community Radio Act of 2010, passed by Congress last year, and to chart a path to the licensing of new LPFM stations. (See our earlier posting here regarding the Local Community Radio Act of 2010.) …