A window for the filing of applications for new noncommercial FM stations in the reserved FM band (below 92.1 FM) appears to be on its way – either later this year or early next. As we reported in our summary of last week’s broadcast legal actions, Chairman Pai last week responded to a Congressional
Last week brought a number of Washington developments that we’ll write about in more detail soon, including the FCC’s decision to relax the limitations on foreign ownership of broadcast stations. But there were also a number of other actions that bear mention – including the decision released late Friday to extend the deadline for the filing of Biennial Ownership reports that are to be filed by all commercial broadcasters – including AM, FM, TV. LPTV and Class A TV station owners. These more complicated versions of FCC Form 323 are filed every other year to assess diversity in the ownership of broadcast stations. These reports were originally to be filed on November 1, but the filing date was extended to December 2 earlier this year (see our article here), due to the recognized complexity of the completion and electronic filing of these forms. Now, after the FCC shutdown deprived broadcasters of several weeks’ preparation time in which the electronic forms were available for use, the deadline has been extended to December 20. The FCC Public Notice warns filers to try to submit their reports before the deadline to avoid potential slowdowns in the electronic system due to an expected heavy volume of users as the deadline approaches.
In fact, the effect that heavy demands on FCC’s electronic filing system was made evident by the FCC’s last-minute decision to extend by one day the last day for filing LPFM applications. That extended deadline passed on Friday, after being extended from the originally announced extended deadline (due to the government shutdown) of Thursday, because glitches in the FCC’s electronic filing system delayed last-minute filings before that Thursday deadline. There has not yet been any announcement of the number of LPFM applications filed in the window, but many think that the number will rival if not exceed the thousands of applications filed in the 2003 FM translator window – applications that the FCC is still processing over 10 years after their filing.…
Continue Reading Odds and Ends: Extension of Biennial Ownership Report Deadline, $110,000 Penalty for Indecency, Deadline for UHF Discount Comments, and Closing of the LPFM Window
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.
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.
September is one of the few months without a due date for the standard regulatory filings – no renewals, EEO public file reports, and no Quarterly Issues Programs Lists or Children’s Television Reports. Instead, the big filing this month is one that applies to all commercial broadcasters (and most entities regulated by the FCC in other services as well) – the annual regulatory fees due on September 20. We wrote about the deadline here (with links to the FCC webpage on which you can look up your fees), and the amounts of the fees by category of broadcaster, here. But just because there are no other regular filings due at the FCC does not mean that those in charge of regulatory compliance at your stations can take the month off once they have paid the fees.
No, there are plenty of other deadlines to which broadcasters should pay attention. Those who filed license renewal applications for radio stations in California and for TV stations in Illinois and Wisconsin should be running their post-filing license renewal announcements on the 1st and the 16th of the month. The next round of license renewals will be filed on October 1, and stations in the states where those renewals are due should be running the third and fourth of their pre-filing renewal announcements on the 1st and 16th. That would be TV stations in Iowa and Missouri, and radio stations in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, and Saipan.
The processing of the FM translator applications left over from the 2003 translator window marches on. The FCC today announced the window for long form applications for all the translator applications that are no longer mutually exclusive with other applicants. The FCC has asked for long-form applications for these 1239 applications (filed on Form 349 and providing more detailed legal and technical information about the applicant and its proposed operation) to be filed by August 30. The FCC Public Notice about this filing deadline is here. The list of applications that are identified as singletons are here.
Many of these applications are those that filed technical amendments in the recent settlement window eliminating mutual exclusivity with other applications. There are 1239 such applications that could be granted as a result of this action, on top of the applications already identified as "singletons" before the settlement window (see our article here), and perhaps others still subject to FCC processing. The remaining applications, who were not able to resolve mutual exclusivity with other applicants, will end up in an auction at some point in the future.
In the long-forms, the applicant may make minor changes to its technical facilities that were specified in the tech box on the original application. However, these changes, if made in a market that the FCC deemed spectrum-limited for purposes of LPFM availability, must contain a "preclusion study" showing that they will not impact LPFM opportunities in their markets. Any changes are also secondary to any application filed in the upcoming LPFM window.
Low Power FM potential applicants, start your engines. The FCC has announced the long-awaited window for the filing of applications for new LPFM stations. The window will last from October 15-October 29. During this period, nonprofit organizations and governmental organizations will have the opportunity to file for new stations on any FM channel anywhere in the country – as long as they don’t interfere with existing FM or FM translator stations (or channel 6 TV stations which operate on a channel adjacent to the FM band). The FCC has done a great job in processing the remainder of the applications from the 2003 FM translator window, announcing a settlement window for applicants in that proceeding that is open through July 22, to be followed by an auction. Substantially completing the processing of those translator applications has cleared the way for the upcoming LPFM window.
Two FCC Commissioners issued statements hailing the upcoming window and the opportunities that it will present for encouraging more diversity in the media marketplace (see statements of Acting FCC Chair Clyburn and Commissioner Pai). A number of groups that have actively championed LPFM also applauded the opening of the window, some trumpeting plans for workshops across the country to help people prepare for the filing opportunities. We hope that expectations are not being unduly raised. Particularly in larger markets, as the FCC itself has recognized, there will be only very limited opportunities for LPFM applicants, as there is very limited spectrum in those markets not already occupied by FM stations or close enough to existing stations to create interference. As the LPFM rules require that new stations protect existing FM stations from interference on co-channels and first and second adjacent channels, in large markets, there will be little room for new LPFM stations. Groups thinking about opportunities in those markets need to be prepared to face competition for the few channels that may be available and to be realistic – as there will be many places where no channels will be available to serve a particular part of a metropolitan area.
The next step in processing of the translators from the 2003 FM translator window is now upon us. The FCC has asked for major market translator applications – those in the "Appendix A markets" (essentially the top 150 Arbitron markets and a few additional ones in which numerous translator applications were filed) and…
The FCC offered its solution for the remaining conflicts between LPFM advocates, applicants for new FM translators from the 2003 FM translator window, and full-power FM stations with a series of orders approved by the FCC at its open meeting on Friday. We wrote about some of the issues on the table for the FCC’s resolution…
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…