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.)
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.
Just over a week ago, the FCC decided to freeze the dismissal of FM translator applications of applicants who had more than 10 applications still pending at the FCC. As we have written, the FCC had ordered all applicants in the 2003 FM Translator filing window to dismiss all but 10 of their remaining…
In November, the FCC adopted an Order limiting to 10 the number of FM translators from the 2003 translator filing window that a single applicant could pursue. This Order was adopted by the Commission at the urging of LPFM advocates who believed that the large number of FM translator applications filed in 2003 foreclosed some opportunities for new low power FM stations (see our description of the Order here). Last week, the FCC released a Public Notice telling translator applicants to choose which 10 applications that they will continue to prosecute. Applicants have until April 3 to make that choice and notify the Commission of their choice. If no choice is made by that date, the FCC will continue to process the first 10 applications that were on file, dismissing any remaining applications by that applicant.
The Commission is expecting to then continue to process the remaining applications, opening a settlement window after the dismissal process is complete so that the remaining applicants can sort out possible engineering solutions or other settlements that would resolve conflicts between remaining mutually exclusive applications. However, there are a number of Petitions for Reconsideration that were filed against the Order establishing the 10 application limit (including one filed by our firm on behalf of a number of clients). We’ll see if the Commission takes any action on the Reconsideration petitions (and an accompanying Petition for Stay of the selection deadline) or if the Commission marches on and continues to process these applications. For now, applicants should be ready to make their selections on or before April 3.
Federal Register publication of the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Low Power FM (LPFM) stations and their relationship to FM translators and upgrades of full-power FM stations occurred today. This sets the comment dates in that proceeding – with comments due April 7, and replies on April 21. This proceeding looks at…
Last week, we published a note that the FCC had published the new rules on Low Power FM (LPFM) stations in the Federal Register, starting the comment period on the issues raised in the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in that proceeding – principally addressing the relationship between LPFM stations and FM translators and improvements…
[Correction 1/24/2008- we have published a correction to this entry, here, noting that the Federal Register publication described below contained only half of the FCC’s order in its LPFM proceeding, omitting the portion seeking public comment. That section of the order will apparently be published in the Federal Register at a later date – so the February 19 comment date set out below is incorrect. Everyone has more time to prepare their comments. The actual filing date will be set in the future.]
The FCC Order establishing new rules for Low Power FM (LPFM) Stations was published in the Federal Register on January 17. This sets the date of February 19 for the filing of comments on the question of the relationship between LPFM stations and both FM translators and full-power FM stations. These comments will address two issues, (1) whether LPFM stations should remain secondary stations, subject to being knocked off the air by new full-power FM stations and (2) whether LPFM stations should get some sort of priority over some or all FM translator stations.
LPFM stations have been "secondary" stations, meaning that they could be knocked off the air when a new FM station came on the air, or when improvements to the facilities of an existing FM station were constructed, if the new full-power FM facilities would be caused interference from the existing LPFM station. As we wrote here, at its November meeting, the FCC decided that it needed more information to determine whether LPFM stations should continue to be secondary to new or improved FM stations. While not reaching a final determination on that issue, the FCC adopted temporary processing policies which essentially force the full-power stations to deal with LPFM operators in cases where such interference arises – potentially blocking improvements in the facilities of a number of FM stations.
At last Tuesday’s FCC meeting, the Commission adopted a controversial order, over the objection of two Commissioners, that could limit the processing of some applications for improvements by some full power FM stations, and would restrict translator applications, all in the name of encouraging Low Power FM (LPFM) stations to provide outlets for expression by groups that cannot get access to full-power radio stations (see our summary of that action here). In recent weeks, two ideas have received some publicity providing an alternative outlet for these prospective local broadcasters – and both provide a simple solution (one more immediate and ad hoc than that other), but both leading to the same result – why not just extend the FM band by using TV channel 6?
The current FM band begins at 88.1 MHz, a channel that is actually immediately adjacent to TV Channel 6. The FCC has for years restricted operations of noncommercial FM stations (which operate from 88.1 to 91.9 on the FM dial) in areas where there are Channel 6 TV stations in order to prevent the radio stations from creating interference to the reception of the TV stations. That’s while you will often find fewer noncommercial stations, or ones with weaker coverage, in communities that have TV Channel 6 licensees. TV stations use an FM transmission system for their audio. Thus, you will also find that most FM receivers (especially ones without digital tuners) will pick up the audio from TV channel 6 if tuned all the way to the left of the dial. The short-term solution to expanding the FM band came from one broadcaster who noted that fact.
Last week, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was quoted in several trade press reports as having told the House Small Business Committee that his office was working on an item to be circulated among the other commissioners that would ensure low power FM ("LPFM") stations "would have reasonable access to limited radio spectrum." So what does this…
During a panel at the NAB Radio Show, FCC Audio Services Division Chief Peter Doyle was asked a question about the processing of FM applications filed under the new simplified process for upgrades in their technical facilities and for changes in their cities of license (see our post here for details about that process). The question dealt with rumors that the processing of certain FM applications were being delayed if the proposed upgrade would cause interference problems to any LPFM stations which would threaten their existence. We have written about our concerns that such a policy was possible, here. According to the response yesterday, these delays are indeed taking place – meaning that LPFM stations that are supposed to be secondary services which yield to new or improved full-service stations are now blocking improvements in the facilities of these full-power stations.
Doyle explained that, at the moment, there is no policy of denying the full-service station’s application – but these applications are being put on hold if they would impede an LPFM’s ability to continue to operate in order to study options as to how the LPFM service might be preserved through a technical change or through agreements to accept interference. While no final determination has been reached as to what will happen to the applications if there is no available resolution to the LPFM interference issue, he pointed to the pending rulemaking (pending for almost two years) that would give LPFM’s higher status, and in effect allow them to preclude new or improved full-service operations. There was some indication that these actions were being taken pursuant to the potential policies set out in that Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – even though these policies were simply proposals advanced for public comment and have not yet been adopted by the full Commission.