LPFM third adjacent channel interference

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.


Continue Reading FM Translators and LPFM on FCC Agenda for November 30 Meeting – A Final Resolution for the Pending 2003 Translator Applications?

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.


Continue Reading May 7 Deadline Set for Comments on Proposed Rules on Interference to Full-Power FM by LPFM Stations, and on LPFM Service Rules (Including Proposal for 250 Watt LPFM Stations)

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.


Continue Reading FCC Clarifies Rules for LPFM – Part 1 – What to Do With FM Translator Applications From the 2003 Filing Window, and Using Translators for the Rebroadcasting of 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.


Continue Reading FCC Prepares to Resolve the Conflicts Between LPFM and FM Translators – Could 10,000 Low Power FM Applications Be On the Way to the FM Band?

As part of the Local Community Radio Act which, among other things, repealed restrictions against protecting full-power FM stations from third-adjacent channel interference from LPFM stations, Congress required that the FCC conduct a study of the economic impact that such stations will have on full-power FM stations.  The FCC began the process of conducting that study, asking for public comment on a series of questions designed to look at that impact.  Comments are due on June 24, 2011, with reply comments to be filed by July 25.  The Commission asks for comments in two general areas, asking what impact LPFM will have on full-power stations’ revenues and on their audience share, but tentatively decided that it would not look at any economic impact that interference from LPFM would have on full-power stations.

What led the FCC to this tentative conclusion?  The FCC said that the Act did not specifically require any study of the economic impact of interference and, since the principal purpose of the Act was to set out how the FCC should deal with interference remediation, Congress had already addressed all that needed to be considered about any potential interference.  This view was bolstered by the inclusion in previous legislation of a specific directive to study interference, which led to the report from the MITRE  Corporation.  That report concluded that there would be no substantial interference from LPFM to full-power stations, which opened the door to the passage of the Act.  Thus, the Commission reached the tentative conclusion that no additional study of the economic impact of LPFM was necessary, but they seek comment on that tentative conclusion.  We expect that there will be such comments.


Continue Reading FCC to Study Economic Effect of LPFM on Full-Power FM – But Not the Economic Impact of Any Interference that May Be Caused

Every year, about this time, I dust off the crystal ball to offer a look at the year ahead to see what Washington has in store for broadcasters.  This year, like many in the recent past, Washington will consider issues that could fundamentally affect the broadcast industry – for both radio and TV, and affecting the growing on-line presence of broadcasters.  The FCC, Congress, and other government agencies are never afraid to provide their views on what the industry should be doing but, unlike other members of the audience, they can force broadcasters to pay attention to their views by way of new laws and regulations. And there is never a shortage of ideas from Washington as to how broadcasters should act.  Some of the issues discussed below are perennials, coming back over and over again on my yearly list (often without resolution), while others are unique to this coming year.  Issues unique to radio and TV, and those that could affect the broadcast industry generally, are addressed below.

Television Issues

Spectrum issues have been the dominant TV concerns in past years, first with the digital transition, and more recently with the "white spaces" rulemaking and the proposals advanced as part of the FCC’s Broadband Plan to reclaim part of the TV spectrum for wireless broadband uses.  These issues remain on the FCC’s agenda, as do new issues dealing with the carriage of television stations by cable and satellite television providers.  Specific issues for TV include:

Spectrum reclamation:  The initial proposals for the reclamation of part of the TV spectrum for wireless broadband were laid by the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released in November, looking at how the TV spectrum could be used more efficiently, and how incentive auctions encouraging some TV stations to vacate their channels could be conducted.  Congress still has to pass legislation to allow such auctions, and it will probably also mandate a spectrum inventory to determine if the reclamation of the TV spectrum is really necessary to provide for wireless broadband needs.  At the same time, some TV operators have begun to talk about television stations themselves providing broadband service with their excess spectrum.  While Congress will probably act on the auction bills this year, and there will be much debate about the details of the reallocation issue, so don’t expect final resolution of this matter in 2011.

White Spaces:  The FCC has authorized the operation of wireless devices in the television spectrum, resolving many of the concerns about interference to television operators by requiring all wireless users to protect operating TV channels in specific areas based on databases of existing users, not on spectrum sensing techniques.  But implementation issues still need to be worked out – including finding parties to compile and administer the databases to make sure that all existing spectrum users who are to be protected are registered.  Expect action on these matters this year, but no actual white spaces use until after these implementation efforts are completed.

LPTV Digital Transition:  While many members of the general public may consider the digital television transition to be complete, many Low Power TV stations and TV translators are still operating in analog.  The FCC has commenced a proceeding to require the transition of these stations to digital, suggesting that the transition be complete as early as the end of 2012.  Expect controversy on this issue.  Many LPTV stations feel that being forced incur the costs to covert to digital is premature and could imperil broadcast service, especially to rural areas and minority populations who rely on translators and LPTV stations, if spectrum repacking caused by any future repurposing of TV spectrum for broadband forces further technical changes.  These issues will be considered by the Commission this year.

Retransmission Consent Reform:  At the end of 2010, there was much controversy over retransmission consent issues, as there were instances where broadcasters and cable operators and other multichannel video programming distributors had difficult negotiations over the carriage fees to be paid to the TV stations.  FCC sources stated at the end of the year that a proceeding will be initiated to determine if the rules governing the negotiation process should be changed.  The multichannel video programming distributors and some public interest groups argue that the FCC should protect viewers who may have their TV service disappear if a TV station does not reach a deal with a MVPD, while the broadcasters argue that the ability to remove the station is the heart of the negotiation, and removing the risk of the MVPD losing the right to carry the station would negate the negotiation.  Look for this proceeding to commence early in the year but, as it will no doubt be very controversial, it may take some time to resolve.

DMA Boundary Issues:  The FCC has also begun a proceeding to look at DMA boundaries that cross state lines to see if every television viewer should be guaranteed to receive service from cable or satellite providers of a station in his or her state.  Television stations fear that this guarantee could upset traditional television markets, and could have an impact on retransmission consent negotiations in border counties.  Comments in this proceeding are due on January 24th, 2011.


Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – What Washington Has In Store For Broadcasters in 2011