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.


Continue Reading Deadline for FM Translator Applicants To Select 10 Applications to Continue to Prosecute

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

At its December meeting, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Localism.  At that meeting, while the Commissioners discussed the generalities of the proposals being made, the specifics of the proposals were unknown.  The full text of the NPRM has now been released, and it sets out the areas in which the Commission proposes to re-regulate broadcast stations.  The order also hints at a number of other proceedings that the Commission intends to launch in the near future, and reminds broadcasters of a number of other existing proceedings that will potentially bring about greater regulation.  From the discussion in the NPRM, new rules will apply to all broadcasters – large and small – and potentially place significant burdens on all stations which, as always, are hardest for small stations to deal with.  Given the number of new regulatory initiatives discussed by the Commission, the NPRM is a must-read for all broadcasters, and this proceeding is one in which all broadcasters should participate.

Among the specific proposals on which the Commission asks for comments include the following:

Community Advisory Boards:  The Commission tentatively concludes that all stations will be required to establish a community advisory board to advise the station on the issues of importance to the community that can be addressed in the station’s programming.  The Commission indicated that it did not want to bring back the burden of the ascertainment process that was abolished in the 1980s, but asks how the Board should be established so as to represent the entire community, suggesting that the categories of community leaders that were used in the ascertainment process could be used as a standard to guide the licensee in determining the make-up of the board.  Other questions include how often the board should meet, and how the board members should be selected (or elected – though by whom, the Commission does not suggest).

Other Community Outreach Efforts.  The Commission also suggests that other community outreach efforts should be considered as possible mandates for broadcasters.  These would include the following:

  • Listener surveys by telephone or other electronic means (general public surveys were also part of the ascertainment process abolished in the 1980s, so if this were adopted together with the Community Advisory Board, ascertainment would effectively be back)
  • Focus sessions or town hall meetings
  • Participation of management personnel on community boards, committees, councils and commissions (mandatory civic participation?)
  • Specific phone numbers or email addresses, publicized during programming, for the public to register their comments on station operations.

Remote Station Operations.  Comments are sought as to whether television stations should be forbidden to operate without being manned during all hours of operation.  Radio operations will be addressed in the proceeding to consider the public interest issues posed in the Digital Radio Proceeding (see our summary here).

Quantitative Programming Guidelines.  The Commission proposes to adopt quantitative standards for programming that a station would have to meet to avoid extra processing and scrutiny at license renewal time.  Questions include what categories of standards should be established (just local programs – or more specific requirements to set required amounts of news, public affairs and other categories – and how to define what programming would qualify in each category), should requirements be established as specific numbers of minutes or hours per day or per week or by a percentage of programming or through some other metric, should other specific requirements or measurements be established?

Main Studios.  The commission suggests reverting to the pre-1987 requirement that each station maintain a main studio in its community of license

Network Programming Review.  The Commission asks whether rules should be adopted to require that local network affiliates have some ability to review all network programming before it is aired.  If so, what programs would be exempt from the requirement (e.g. live programs), how much prior review is necessary, would such a right disrupt network operations?

Voice Tracking.  The Commission asks if "voice-tracking," (i.e. a radio announcer who provides announcing on a radio station from outside a local market, sometimes including local inserts to make it sound as if the announcer is local) should be limited or prohibited, or if disclosure should be required.

Local Music.  While the Commission indicates that it did not think that a ban on national playlists was required, it did ask whether broadcasters should be required to report the songs that they play, and how they choose their music.  With that information, the Commission asks if it should consider the amount of local music played when assessing whether a station has served the needs of its community at license renewal time.

Class A TV.  The Commission asks whether it should adopt rules that permit more LPTV stations to achieve Class A status, meaning that they would no longer be secondary stations subject to being forced off the air by interfering uses of the TV spectrum by full-power TV stations.

 


Continue Reading FCC Releases Specifics of Localism Rulemaking – Proposing Lots of New Rules For Broadcasters

[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. 


Continue Reading Comment Date on the Relationship of Low Power FM Stations to FM Full Power Stations and Translators Set

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.


Continue Reading Who Needs LPFM? – Why Not Just Expand the FM Dial?

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 FCC Meeting Adopts Rules Favoring LPFM, Restricting Translator Applications, and Possibly Impeding Full Service FM Station Upgrades

The FCC has released the agenda for its Open Meeting to be held on Tuesday, November 27.  The agenda is full of issues of importance to broadcasters, and several items may resolve issues that may be troubling – including issues relating to low power FM stations (LPFM) and resolving a long outstanding proceeding concerning the possibility of mandatory public interest obligations for TV stations.  The Commission also has on tap initiatives to encourage the entry of minorities and other new entrants into the broadcast business – even though comments on the Commission’s proposals on this matter were received just a month ago.

First, the Commission is to release an Order on Low Power FM.  We have written about some of the issues that could be decided previously – including issues of whether or not to allow the assignment and transfer of such stations (here) and whether to give these stations preferences over translators and even improvements in full power stations (here and here).

On the TV side, the Commission seems ready to issue an order on the public interest obligations of television operators.  We wrote about the proposals – made as part of the Commission’s DTV proceedings (though to be applicable to all TV stations), here.  Proposed rules included the standardization of quarterly issues programs lists, making station’s public fies available on the Internet, and quantifying other public interest obligations. 


Continue Reading FCC Meeting to Consider LPFM Reform, Public Interest Requirements for TV Stations, and Minority Ownership Proposals

As the Commission held its last localism hearing in Washington on Halloween night, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s views on how the FCC should insure that stations are responsive to their communities became somewhat clearer.  In his opening statement, the Chairman outlined a set of actions that could be taken by the FCC to insure more service to the public.  While emphasizing the importance of efforts to encourage new entrants into broadcast ownership, the Chairman’s proposals to add new regulatory requirements, including requiring that a station be manned during all hours of operation, may well have the result of making it more difficult for any new entrant (or for existing smaller operators) to profitably operate their stations.  In addition, he has offered proposals that would seemingly require cable and satellite carriage of in-state television stations not in a system’s DMA – a proposal sure to cause concern to stations in DMAs that straddle state lines.

The Chairman’s statement includes the following proposals:

  • Requirements for uniform filings by broadcasters quantifying their public service – presumably their news and information programming and the public service announcements that they provide
  • Requiring that stations have manned main studios during all hours of operations (not just during business hours)
  • Allowing flexibility for LPFM stations to be sold, but adopting new rules to insure that such stations are used for local programming, not something provided from a network or other programming source
  • Providing television viewers the ability to get an in-state television stations on cable and satellite even if the county in which they reside is "home" to a DMA with stations in another state
  • Capping the number of applications accepted from the 2003 FM translator filing window – which might result in the dismissal of hundreds of applications that have effectively been frozen for 4 years


Continue Reading Shape of Things To Come: New Public Interest Obligations, Changes in TV DMAs and More Flexibility For LPFM