processing 2003 translator applications

We are already a full month into the New Year, and the regulatory issues for broadcasters keep on coming. February brings the usual requirements for Annual EEO Public File Reports, which should be placed into the public inspection files (those public files being online for TV stations, big clusters of radio stations in Top 50 markets, and for those other radio stations that have converted to the online public file in anticipation of next month’s deadline) of stations in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees. Radio stations with 11 or more full-time employees in New Jersey and New York also must file with the FCC a Mid-Term EEO Report on Form 397 by the end of the day today. TV stations with 5 or more full-time employees in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma also must file the Mid-Term Report.

As noted above, March 1 brings the deadline for all radio stations to convert to the online public file hosted by the FCC (see our article here for more details about this requirement). For those radio stations that have not yet completed their conversion, February is the month to be uploading those documents. As the FCC automatically uploads most of the applications and other FCC filings that need to be in the public file, the documents that will likely take the most time for the broadcaster to upload are Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and Annual EEO Public File Reports, documents not filed with the FCC on a regular basis. We have already heard reports that the FCC’s public file system is running slow at certain times of the day, probably because of the strain of so many people uploading documents. We expect that these issues will only get worse as the March 1 deadline approaches. So, if you are a procrastinator, get on this now, as time is getting short.
Continue Reading February Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Including EEO, Online Public File, Biennial Ownership Reports, ATSC 3.0 and FM Translator Comments, Effective Dates of Ownership Rule Changes

Last week brought a number of Washington developments that we’ll write about in more detail soon, including the FCC’s decision to relax the limitations on foreign ownership of broadcast stations.  But there were also a number of other actions that bear mention – including the decision released late Friday to extend the deadline for the filing of Biennial Ownership reports that are to be filed by all commercial broadcasters – including AM, FM, TV. LPTV and Class A TV station owners.  These more complicated versions of FCC Form 323 are filed every other year to assess diversity in the ownership of broadcast stations.  These reports were originally to be filed on November 1, but the filing date was extended to December 2 earlier this year (see our article here), due to the recognized complexity of the completion and electronic filing of these forms.  Now, after the FCC shutdown deprived broadcasters of several weeks’ preparation time in which the electronic forms were available for use, the deadline has been extended to December 20.  The FCC Public Notice warns filers to try to submit their reports before the deadline to avoid potential slowdowns in the electronic system due to an expected heavy volume of users as the deadline approaches.

In fact, the effect that heavy demands on FCC’s electronic filing system was made evident by the FCC’s last-minute decision to extend by one day the last day for filing LPFM applications.  That extended deadline passed on Friday, after being extended from the originally announced extended deadline (due to the government shutdown) of Thursday, because glitches in the FCC’s electronic filing system delayed last-minute filings before that Thursday deadline.  There has not yet been any announcement of the number of LPFM applications filed in the window, but many think that the number will rival if not exceed the thousands of applications filed in the 2003 FM translator window – applications that the FCC is still processing over 10 years after their filing.
Continue Reading Odds and Ends: Extension of Biennial Ownership Report Deadline, $110,000 Penalty for Indecency, Deadline for UHF Discount Comments, and Closing of the LPFM Window

FM translator processing and LPFMs have been inextricably tied together for years, as the services compete for spectrum throughout the country. While the principal conflicts between the two services were, for the most part, resolved last year, it seems that there will always be some ties between the two. At Wednesday’s FCC open meeting, this was illustrated by the fact that there were two reports – one on the status of the processing of the remaining applications from the 2003 FM translator window, and another about the preparations for the upcoming LPFM window.  The report on translators talked about the almost 2000 translator applications that have been or will be granted this year, and how the 2003 backlog soon will be down to only about 200 applications still mutually exclusive and to be awarded by an auction,  The LPFM report talked about the well-attended webinars that have been held by the FCC to educate the public about the possibility of new stations – and the reportedly hundreds of draft applications already partially prepared in the FCC’s electronic filing system – even though the filing window does not open for several weeks.

On the translator front. the FCC two weeks ago announced that there will be another 104 “tech box” proposals that are not mutually exclusive with any other translator application from the 2003 FM translator filing window (see the list here). These are on top of the 1700 other applications that were considered to be grantable in two separate lists that came out earlier this year (see our articles about these prior “singleton” groups, here and here). Long-form applications (ones that spell out the details of the applicant’s proposals, including information about the applicant’s ownership and specific technical information about where the station will be built) for the 104 newly identified singleton applications are due on October 9. Instructions for filing those applications are available here.

That deadline is just prior to the deadline for LPFM applications. As with other recent translator filings, the long-form applications for these new translators are only protected against interference from new LPFM applications from the coming window to the extent of their coverage on June 17, the date that the LPFM window was announced. Moves made from the sites specified as of June 17 may not have any protection from subsequent LPFM applications. But the new LPFM applications themselves have numerous rules and procedures that they must follow to be found acceptable in the upcoming window.Continue Reading More New FM Translators to Be Granted, While FCC Provides More Details for LPFM Filing Window

The next step in processing of the translators from the 2003 FM translator window is now upon us.  The FCC has asked for major market translator applications – those in the "Appendix A markets" (essentially the top 150 Arbitron markets and a few additional ones in which numerous translator applications were filed) and

As we wrote last month, the FCC has issued an order attempting to resolve the remaining issues between FM translators from the 2003 FM translator window, whose processing has been frozen for over 5 years, and LPFM stations. As part of the Commission’s order, it decided that translator applicants would be limited to 3 applications in any "Appendix A market" – essentially the Top 150 Arbitron markets and a handful of other markets with high numbers of translator applicants – and 70 applications nationwide, of which at least 20 must be outside of the Appendix A markets. To move the processing of these applications forward, so that the FCC can get to its goal of clearing out the translator applications so that it can open a window for the filing of new LPFM applications in October, the FCC announced in a Public Notice released just before Christmas that translator applicants with applications pending that would be in excess of either the in-market cap of 3 application or the national cap of 70 applications, need to make elections as to which applications they will pursue during a window from January 10 through January 25. If only it were so simple.

The election is not a simple one – as it goes far beyond simply submitting a list of applications that an applicant seeks to prosecute. Instead, the applicant must meet the other criteria set out by the FCC in its order last month, and information demonstrating such compliance. For applicants seeking to prosecute more than 50 applications, or more than one application in any market, the applicant must show that each of the applications they are pursuing do not have 60 dbu overlap with any other application that they are pursuing, or with any translator authorization that they currently hold. For applicants seeking to prosecute more than 50 translator application (with those applications in excess of 50 having to be outside of the Appendix A markets), the applicant must also show that, at the transmitter site that they propose, there will be an opportunity at their proposed site for at least one LPFM station to operate on another frequency in the upcoming LPFM window. For those seeking to prosecute more than one application in an Appendix A market, the applicant must show that any additional applications will not preclude the use of LPFM opportunities identified through the use of the "grids" that the Commission adopted for measuring LPFM opportunities in their March order on this issue. These are not easy showings to make, so applicants looking to take advantage of these relaxations in the application caps need to get started on their engineering reviews immediately.Continue Reading Processing of 2003 FM Translators Continues – January 25 Deadline to Select Applications to Meet Application Caps

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 Local Community Radio Act has been pending in Congress, ready to be approved for many months, but held up by the Senate.  This weekend, as the Congressional term was drawing to a close, both the House and the Senate approved a bill modifying the interference standards for Low Power FM radio stations, opening the possibility that more channels will be available for LPFM use when the next window for filing new LPFM applications opens. However, this bill is substantially modified from the LPFM bill that was just passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year (see our summary of the House version of the bill). The NAB has been working with the LPFM advocates to adopt a bill with substantially more protections for full-power stations, while still allowing LPFMs to locate on channels third adjacent to full power stations. The bill passed by Congress and soon to be signed by the President makes substantial changes to the original House version, and seemingly provides many such protections. Specifically, the final legislation is different from the old bill in many ways including:

  • It does away with all the introductory language in the original House bill that contained many Congressional findings about the value of LPFM stations, language that could have been used to justify FCC actions in the future that would be unfavorable to the interests of full-power stations. 
  • It specifically forbids the FCC from amending the distance requirements between LPFM and full-power stations for first and second adjacent channel operations.  It does allow for waivers of these separations, but requires LPFMs to cease operations if complaints of interference to a full-power station are received.
  • It makes clear that LPFM stations are secondary to full power stations, both as they currently exist and as they may be modified in the future. 
  • The law specifically requires that the FCC treat LPFM and FM translators and FM boosters as being equal in status, and secondary to full-power stations (both existing and modified full-power stations) – thus seemingly ending some of the LPFM proposals that would allow LPFM stations to preempt existing FM translators.
  • For LPFMs that are located at less than the full distance from a full-power station set out by the LPFM rules, even on a third adjacent channel, the LPFM must provide the same protections that translators give to other stations under Section 74.1203, which includes the requirement that a new secondary station (like a translator or LPFM) cease operations if it interferes with the reception of any regularly used FM signal (even if the signal is outside of the existing station’s primary service contour)
  • The bill adds a provision to protect stations in certain densely populated states (principally if not exclusively New Jersey) by imposing the translator interference rules on LPFM stations (seemingly the same provision as provided for stations in other states when the LPFM is operated at less than the current spacings. 

This bill does contain some provisions that are not entirely clear, and in some cases, provisions that seem a bit contradictory. These issues will no doubt be sorted out by the FCC, and potentially by Congress itself, in the future. Continue Reading Bill Changing LPFM Spacings But Protecting FM Stations Passes Congress – After NAB Assures More Protections to Broadcasters