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.
Continue Reading

The FCC has asked for comments on a rulemaking proposal that would fundamentally change the way in which LPFM stations operate – proposing that they be allowed to take commercial messages (as opposed to the current limit the they operate noncommercially, only taking underwriting announcements and other noncommercial sponsorships), allowing them to be owned by local small businesses (as opposed to the current rule that limit their ownership to nonprofit organizations), and giving them primary status (protecting them against being displaced by a subsequent move of a full-power station or the initiation of service by a new full-power FM station). The proposal also asks that the limits on ownership, which currently limit most nonprofit groups to ownership of a single LPFM, be lifted. There is also a suggestion that LPFM stations be governed by the same spacing rules that apply to FM translators, letting them locate wherever there is no predicted interference, not limiting them to locations where they meet mileage separation requirements set out by the current rules. This is a new proposal, going beyond the proposal we wrote about here to allow LPFM stations to increase power to 250 watts, on which the FCC recently took comments.

Comments on this proposal are due on August 30. The proposal is not a proposal by the FCC to adopt rules on these matters, but instead just a preliminary notice that the petition asking for these changes to the rules was filed, and asking for public comment as to whether the FCC should take any action and further pursue the proposals being made. Obviously, some broadcasters may want to comment on this proposal which would fundamentally change the nature of the LPFM service.
Continue Reading

Last week, the FCC formally announced its receipt of a proposal from REC Networks to raise the maximum power for LPFM stations from 100 watts to 250 watts, to give them equivalent power levels with FM translator stations. REC suggests that these higher power levels are necessary to allow LPFM stations to overcome the effects of multipath in their coverage areas, and to provide sufficient building penetration in more urban areas. The proposal (which is available here) also suggests other changes to the rules that apply to LPFM stations, including those dealing with interference protections between LPFM stations and FM translators, and the rules allowing the use of the FM translators by LPFM stations. The FCC notice is only an announcement that the proposal has been received. While comments can be filed within 30 days as to whether or not the FCC should move further to consider the issues raised in the Petition, any ultimate action should require that the FCC issue a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit comments on the specific proposals that the Commission deems potentially worthy of consideration.

Nevertheless, even though this is but a request for preliminary comments, broadcasters may want to consider commenting within the 30 days provided by the Commission as to whether or not this proposal should move forward. The proposals put forward in REC’s Petition are very detailed, and it provided significant backing information in support of its requests. The 250 watt proposal has many nuances – proposing that these upgrades be allowed, at least initially, only for already authorized LPFM stations as minor changes to their existing facilities. And the proposal would not expand the “buffer zones” adopted by the Commission when it first authorized LPFM stations – establishing mileage separation requirements between LPFM and full-power FM stations designed to protect the full-power station beyond its normally protected contour. REC suggests that, in most cases, the buffer zone provides too much protection to full-power stations, and that even at 250 watts, there should still be sufficient protection to full-power stations.
Continue Reading

Time flies, and more regulatory requirements and comment deadlines in regulatory proceedings are upon us in the month of August.  The regular regulatory deadlines include license renewal for TV and LPTV stations in California, and EEO Public Inspection File yearly reports for stations in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.  Noncommercial TV stations in California and North and South Carolina all have ownership reports on Form 323E due on the August 1, and noncommercial radio stations in Wisconsin and Illinois have ownership report obligations too.  We can also expect that the deadline for submission of Annual Regulatory Fees will be set this month but, as we have not yet heard about that date, the deadline for the fees to be paid may not be until sometime in September.

In addition to the regular filings, there are numerous proceedings in which various government agencies will be receiving comments in proceedings that could impact broadcasters.  Next Wednesday, August 6, the FCC will be taking comments on it Quadrennial Review of the multiple ownership rules. The issues to be considered include the TV ownership rules (including the question of how to deal with Shared Services Agreements) about which we wrote yesterday.  Also to be considered in the proceeding are questions about the radio ownership rules, and the cross-interest rules – including whether to change the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules.  But the FCC is not the only one who will be receiving comments on issues that can affect broadcasters.
Continue Reading

The FCC this week announced groups of mutually exclusive (“MX”) LPFM applications, i.e. those groups where applications are for the same or adjacent channels where the grant of one application in the group would preclude other applications in that same group.  The Public Notice is here, and the list of MX groups is here.  The importance of the FCC’s announcement for LPFM applicants is that it gives the applicants 60 days, until February 14, 2014, to amend their applications to make minor changes that will resolve the MX situations (e.g. moving to an adjacent or IF channel or making a slight site change that will eliminate the interference with the other applications that would result if the applications were granted as they now stand). 

Applications left in the MX group at the end of the 60 day period will be subject to a “point system” analysis, granting the application which has the highest number of points in the FCC’s system for deciding between mutually exclusive applicants (giving points for the following:

  • (1) having an established community presence of at least two years;
  • (2) pledging to originate locally at least eight hours of programming per day;
  • (3) pledging to maintain a publicly accessible main studio that has local program origination capability;
  • (4) certifying that you qualify for a point under both the local program origination and the main studio criteria;
  • (5) certifying that neither you nor any party to your application has an attributable interest in another broadcast station; and
  • (6) being a Tribal Applicant proposing to locate your transmitting antenna site on your Tribal Lands).

Note that no amendment that is filed now can improve an applicants comparative position under these point system criteria.  Applicants are locked into the points that they claimed when they initially filed their applications. 
Continue Reading

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.


Continue Reading

Last Thursday, the possibility of more Low Power FM (LPFM) stations came a step closer, as a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill (the text of which is here) which would remove existing Congressional restrictions on the FCC adopting rules to ignore potential interference from new LPFM stations to full power FMs operating on third-adjacent channels.  With this committee approval coming at the same time as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval of a bill that would authorize a sound recording performance royalty on radio broadcasters’ over-the-air programming, this was not a good day legislatively for traditional broadcasters.  But it certainly could have been worse, as the LPFM bill does contain new provisions that would serve to extend some protection to existing broadcasters from interference from new LPFM stations.  Perhaps because of these new protections, the committee action was unanimous.

 The new protections built into the bill include the following:

  • Protection for third-adjacent channel full-power FM stations providing reading services for the blind
  • Providing protection for FM translator input signals from interference from new LPFM stations
  • For a year after a new LPFM goes on the air, it must broadcast notices that any listener who experiences interference to another FM station or FM translator from this new LPFM should report that interference to the LPFM station.  In the event that interference is reported:
    • The LPFM must notify the FCC and the third-adjacent channel station that is getting interference
    • The LPFM station must address the interference that arises
    • The FCC is charged with looking for ways to assist the LPFM in remediating interference, including allowing co-location of the LPFM at the same tower site as the FM station or FM translator to which interference is being caused
    • The FCC will investigate allegations of interference from an FM broadcaster or FM translator, no matter how far that interference is from the station, and even if the interference is to mobile reception

The bill does not say, however, what happens if the interference is not remediated.  Under current FCC rules for the FM translator service, a new translator must sign off if interference to existing stations cannot be resolved.  The bill does not specify that remedy for LPFM.  This issue remains to be resolved if the bill eventually passes Congress.


Continue Reading

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.


Continue Reading

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. 


Continue Reading

In an unusually contentious FCC meeting, the FCC adopted rules that promote Low Power FM ("LPFM") stations seemingly to the detriment of FM translators and improvements in the facilities of full-power FM stations.  While no formal text of the decision has yet been released, the Commission did release a Public Notice summarizing its action.  However, given the lack of detail contained in the Notice as to some of the decisions – including capping at 10 the number of translator applications from the 2003 FM translator window that one entity can continue to process and the adoption of an interim policy that would preclude the processing of full-power FM applications that created interference that could not be resolved to an existing LPFM station – it appears that the Press Release was written before these final details were determined.  And given that the two Republican Commissioners dissented from aspects of this order supported by their Chairman (and also dissented on certain cable items considered later in the meeting), one wonders about the process that resulted in the Republican chairman of the FCC voting with the two Democratic Commissioners on an item that in many respects favors LPFM stations to the detriment of existing broadcast operators.

In any event, specific decisions mentioned in today’s meeting include:

  • Treating changes in the Board of Directors of an LPFM station as minor ownership changes that  can be quickly approved by the FCC
  • Allowing the sale of LPFM stations from one non-profit entity to another
  • Tightening rules requiring local programming on these stations
  • Maintaining requirements that LPFM stations must be locally owned, and limiting groups to ownership of only one station
  • Limiting applicants in the 2003 FM translator window to processing only 10 pending applications each, and requiring that they decide which 10 applications to prosecute before any settlement window opens (the two Republican Commissioners favored allowing applicants to continue to process up to 50 applications)
  • Adopting an interim policy requiring that full-power FM stations that are improving their facilities in such a way that their improvement would interfere with an LPFM station to work with the LPFM to find a way to eliminate or minimize the interference.  If no resolution could be found, the full-power station’s application would not be processed (which we have expressed concerns about before)
  • Urging that Congress repeal the ban on the FCC making any changes that would eliminate protections for full power stations from third-adjacent channel interference from LPFMs


Continue Reading