In addition to the normal FCC deadlines for routine filings, January brings the deadline for comments in a number of FCC proceedings, and a filing window for new FM applications. For TV stations, the Commission recently extended to January 17 the Reply Comment deadline on its proposals (summarized here) for an online public inspection file.
The FCC is now accepting Form 175 applications for FM Auction 91 – an auction of 144 new FM channels across the country. Applications are due between now and February 10. We wrote about the auction here, and the list of channels to be auctioned is available here. So, if you are interested in a new FM channel, act now!
While this auction is proceeding, in a recent case, the FCC addressed what to do with new FM channels that are not yet set for auction. The FCC regularly receives petitions for rulemaking, seeking the addition of new FM channels. Once allotted, these channels may sit on hold for a year or more before being listed for an auction like that now starting. There are many such channels awaiting auction now, and not included in Auction 91. During that period between auctions, owners of existing stations may find that these vacant allocations block upgrades or other changes that the owners may want to make to their existing stations. Until recently, the existing licensee could suggest changes to the new allotments while they were sitting there waiting to be put out for auction – changes including restricting the transmitter site location for that new channel, changing the city of license for the allotment, downgrading it, or even deleting the channel altogether. As set forth in the recent case, the policy has been to entertain these proposals, unless there was a showing that there was a party ready to file for the vacant allotment. In the recent case, the FCC decided that no future proposals to change vacant allotments would be entertained, as the Commission believes that all channels have someone who is interested in the channel, or there will be an interested person when the next auction begins. This policy will govern all future proceedings, with the limited exception that the FCC will entertain a change in frequency for a new allotment, as long as no other changes are made in that allotment (i.e. it stays at the same location and will continue to be able to operate with the same power).
Interested in a new FM radio station? Now might be your chance. The Commission today announced an upcoming auction, designated as FCC Auction No. 91, offering licenses for 147 new FM channels in various communities across the country. The auction will begin on March 29. Today’s public notice merely lists the channels to be auctioned and the proposed minimum bid in the auction to be associated with each channel, and asks for comments on the procedures that will apply in conducting the auction. We would expect that applications to participate in the auction will probably be due sometime in or around January, 2011. The list of the 147 licenses to be offered for sale is available here. The FCC Public Notice asking for comment on the auction procedures is available here.
Parties who are interested in bidding for any of these channels will be able to submit short form applications indicating the channels in which they are interested. As stated above, we would expect these applications will be due sometime early in 2011, so that the FCC can process those applications and receive the necessary upfront payments from parties interested in the auction in time for the auction itself to begin in March. Thus, parties who are interested in any of these channels should start their due diligence process now, and determine which channels may be of interest, and which channels can actually be built in such a way as to cover areas that an applicant may want to serve, so that they can be ready to file their applications.