In 2011, licensees of FM translators who wanted to move those translators to areas where there was a need for their service thought that the FCC had done a great thing by authorizing the use of the “Mattoon” waiver (see our article here).  The Mattoon waiver allowed the processing of an FCC application to move the location of a translator as a minor change (meaning that it could be filed at any time, rather than having to wait for a window for the filing of major changes and new translator applications – the last of which opened in 2003) if the current and proposed interfering and protected contours of the stations overlapped.  Without the waiver, the rules deem a minor change to occur only when the protected 60 dbu contour of the station from the proposed and exiting sites overlap, allowing much smaller moves. But, as we have written before, the FCC now seems to be backing off the use of these waivers, and two recent decisions raise the question of whether the policy is doomed (as the Commission proposed in its AM improvement proposals, which we summarized here).

The use of the waiver in many cases eliminated the need for multiple “hops” of translators to get them from existing locations to the sites at which a broadcaster wanted to use them to provide service.  These hops would move the translator from the locations at which it was licensed to a new site, only to file another application as soon as the initial move was granted to move the translator yet again to get them to the location where a broadcaster wanted to use them to provide service.  In some cases, multiple intermediate hops were necessary to move the translator to the site at which its use was ultimately desired.  The Mattoon waiver allowed many site moves to be accomplished through a single application rather than requiring multiple hops, each of which cost the broadcaster time and money in filing multiple applications and in actually building the translator at multiple sites, and also saved the FCC the time and effort to process each of the applications necessary to approve these intermediate stops for the translator. 
Continue Reading The End of the Mattoon Waiver? – FCC Decisions Confirming Its Use Only for the Rebroadcast of AM Stations and Prohibiting Intermediate Site Changes

In a case that has been watched by many AM licensees and debated at a number of broadcast conferences in the last few years, the FCC on Friday denied the “Tell City waiver,” by which the licensee of an AM station in Indiana sought to buy an FM translator in Kentucky and move it to Indiana, on a non-adjacent channel, and use it to rebroadcast their AM station.  This sought to expand the “Mattoon waiver” (about which we have written many times including articles here and here) which effectively changed the definition of a “minor change” for an FM translator that could be approved in a single application, without waiting for any sort of translator filing window. 

The current rules define a minor change as one where the translator’s 1 mv/m service contour at both the current and proposed sites overlap.  The Mattoon waiver treated applications as minor changes where the service contours did not overlap – as long as the interfering contour of the translator at one site overlapped with the protected contour of the station at the other site – essentially meaning that a translator could not exist at both the current and proposed sites without prohibited interference.  The Tell City waiver would have eliminated even that connection between the present and proposed sites for the translator – allowing essentially a move of any FM translator from one place to another, and from one frequency to another, regardless of whether the new location had any connection with the original site.  That attempt to stretch the definition of a minor change led the Commission’s Media Bureau to deny the request.
Continue Reading FCC Denies “Tell City Waiver” to Move Translator to Distant Non-Adjacent Channel to Rebroadcast AM Station

An FCC letter to the licensee of an FM translator owner asking very specific information about a series of applications to move that translator to a larger market raises question as to whether the FCC is shutting the door on moves of translators from one market to another – where they have often been used to rebroadcast the signal of an AM or an FM HD signal, adding new competition.  While this letter does not explicitly say that multi-hop moves of translators are impermissible under FCC rules, the fact that an investigatory letter from the FCC to one applicant is published in the FCC’s general releases indicates that a message is being sent by the Commission.  And the letter questions whether the large move accomplished by a series of small hops is an abuse of the FCC’s processes.  The letter asks for the details of each move in the series – where the station was built, who gave permission to use the transmitter sites that were used, how long the station operated at each location, what primary station’s signal did the translator rebroadcast at each site, and what the applicant’s ultimate purpose in the moves was.  

We’ve written about the FCC’s apparent crackdown on FM translator moves – first by simply slowing the processing of such applications, then entering into a consent decree with a monetary penalty and the forfeiture of a translator license by a translator licensee who apparently did not have reasonable assurance of every transmitter site in a multi-hop move, then suggesting that such moves were an abuse of process (while, at the same time, making more limited moves easier).  Now  it seems to be actually taking steps to enforce the thinking that, where there is an intent to accomplish a "major change by multiple minor change applications", there is an abuse of process.  Thus, the FCC seems to be drawing the noose tighter around the ability to move these stations large distances.

The FCC, when it authorized the use of FM translators for AM stations  did so with the caveat that only translators that had been granted as of the date of its 2009 order would be allowed to be used for such rebroadcasts.  In many markets, this put a premium on existing translators, as there were not enough translators to rebroadcast all the stations that wanted to be rebroadcast – even where the spectrum to locate such translators existed.  A number of broadcasters found translators in other communities that could technically fit in the community where the broadcaster operated, and agreed to buy them if they could be moved.  Outside a "major change window", translators can only be moved by "minor changes", i.e. where their existing contour overlaps the proposed new contour.  During translator windows, larger moves are permitted, but the last translator window was in 2003.  Another is not expected for at least another year or, most probably, two or more.  To get around the limitation on major changes, translator licensees would file a series of minor change applications to move a translator from one site to another (commonly referred to as a "hop"), build the translator at each site, and, through a series of minor changes, ultimately move to the city where there was an AM station or HD signal that wanted to use that translator.  For a time, the FCC seemed fine with this process.Continue Reading FCC Letter Questions Multi-Hop Move of FM Translator – Limits on Availability of Translators for AM Stations?

The FCC today made it easier to move an FM translator from one location to another, but at the same time adopted new policies that seemingly restrict how far a translator can be moved.  Today’s decision  uses a waiver process to relax the rules so as to permit a move of a translator a greater distance in a single application, but the decision also labels multi-hop moves as an abuse of the Commission’s processes.  As translators have become more important to broadcasters as a way to bring AM and HD-2 signals to a wider audience, this decision will have an immediate and significant impact on many broadcasters, once it becomes clear exactly what are the parameters set by the Commission.

Under Section 74.1233(a) of the FCC rules, a minor change for an FM translator requires that the facilities proposed in an application have a 60 dbu contour that overlaps with the translator’s current licensed 60 dbu.  In effect, this is saying that part of the protected service area of the proposed new facility must overlap with the current protected service area served by the station from its licensed facility.  As major change applications can only be filed during designated translator windows (and there has been no FM translator major change window since 2003), to make any move in a translator, it must be a minor change.  The decision today allows, through a waiver of the rules, a minor change application to be used if the licensed facilities preclude construction of the new facilities, i.e. if the interfering contour of the licensed facilities of the translator overlap with the protected contour specified by the application for new facilities.  A the interfering contour goes much further than the protected contour, this allows the FCC to approve in a single application a move of a greater distance than would be allowed under a strict reading of the rule.  However, there were significant conditions imposed on the application of this new waiver policy that may preclude longer moves that have been common in the last few years. Continue Reading New Policy on FM Translator Moves – Bigger Moves Permitted In One Hop, But Multiple Hops are an Abuse of FCC Processes