Yesterday, we wrote about a case involving an applicant for a new commercial FM station, where the FCC clarified its policies on reasonable assurance of transmitter site availability – holding that an applicant in an auction process can amend to a new site if it is found that its originally specified site is not available for its use. That policy does not apply to applications for LPFM stations or noncommercial FM stations, which are not settled by an auction but instead through the application of a point system. That point system analysis can be preempted in a proceeding between mutually exclusive applicants for the same noncommercial radio station if one applicant is preferred on 307(b) grounds (Section 307b of the Communications Act being a section that requires that the Commission make a “fair, efficient and equitable” distribution of broadcast service, which the FCC has interpreted to mean that it must evaluate the coverage area of proposed new stations and determine if any would bring new services to underserved populations so that the new service, in and of itself, is in the public interest and outweighs any point system analysis). A Court of Appeals decision released last week clarified the application of the 307(b) policy.
The noncommercial case involved an appeal of a “points system” grant favoring one applicant over another. The loser complained that it would provide service to a substantially greater population, including a great number of people who did not currently receive two or fewer noncommercial services. Under the FCC’s policies, an applicant will receive a 307(b) preference that will preempt a points system analysis, but only if it meets certain specific coverage requirements (see our discussion of the FCC’s analysis of which competing applicant for the same noncommercial channel will be preferred here). In this case, the requirement at the center of the argument was one that says that, to be qualified for a 307(b) preference, the applicant’s proposed new station must propose a coverage area providing service to at least 2,000 people that don’t already receive two noncommercial radio services, and the population in the area currently receiving fewer than two noncommercial services must constitute at least 10% of the people to be served by the applicant. Here, the applicant appealing its loss covered over 28,000 people who received only one noncommercial service, while the winning applicant would provide a second noncommercial service to fewer than 5,000 people. But, as the area receiving only one noncommercial service constituted less than 10% of each applicant’s service area (about 9.6% of the loser’s coverage and about 5.5% of the winner’s), no applicant was preferred on the 307(b) criteria, and the winner was preferred on other comparative criteria.
Continue Reading FCC Standards for Comparing Service by Mutually Exclusive Applicants for New Noncommercial Radio Stations Clarified by Court of Appeals