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The FCC Moves to Process Translators

11-30-2012

The FCC took a significant step toward processing the remaining 6,000 or so FM translator applications from the 2003 Auction #83 translator window by deciding that no greater than 70 FM translator applications from one applicant may remain pending nationwide, and no greater than three FM translator applications from one applicant may remain pending in any of 156 rated markets.  

This action was a reconsideration of the FCCs previous decision that limited translator applicants to no greater than 50 pending nationwide, and no more than one pending in any of 156 listed rated markets.
 
Most of the FCCs actions today concerned LPFM.  Most notably, we now know that the FCC is aiming for an October 15, 2013 nationwide LPFM window.  This is important for FM translator applicants as the FCC has previously informally indicated that it expects to have most of the pending FM translator applications resolved prior to the opening of an LPFM window so as to free up as much spectrum as possible for LPFM stations.   Thus, if all goes according to the FCCs expectations, most of the pending Auction #83 applications should be resolved by mid-October 2013.

The FCC in its LPFM actions adopted largely intact its proposals for LPFM 2nd adjacent channel spacing waivers.  The FCC eliminated I.F. spacing for LPFM stations.  Notably, the FCC did not adopt either proposed 250 watt or 50 watt power levels for LPFMs, both which were advocated by LPFM proponents.  The FCC also put a final nail in the coffin of 10 watt LPFMs saying that LP10s were too spectrum inefficient to be considered further.

The resolution of the nationwide and market caps for FM translator applications is a small but essential step toward the FCCs processing of the remaining 6,000 or so pending FM translator applications.  Unfortunately, the FCC provided few details on the next FM translator processing steps but here is what is expected to occur. 

Sometime in December, it is expected that the FCC will release a public notice giving a deadline for pending translator applicants with multiple applications pending nationwide, or multiple applications in any one of the 156 rated markets, to choose which of the 70 or three respectively of its applications to remain pending.  If an applicant does not choose, the FCC will dismiss applications based upon file number filing order.  For those FM translator applicants that wish to have in excess of 50 applications pending nationwide, or greater than one in one pending in the 156 rated markets, the FCC also adopted new overlap and LPFM availability procedures.     

The FCCs staff speculates that the mass dismissal procedure in which FM translator applicants choose which applications to keep pending will result in approximately 2,000 of the now pending 6,000 FM translator applications being dismissed.   The dismissal of these FM translator applications will eliminate many mutual-exclusivity conflicts now existing with a number of the remaining pending FM translator applications.  Applications with no mutually-exclusive conflicting applications are called singletons by the FCCs staff. 

Once this mass dismissal procedure of FM translator applications takes place, the FCCs staff is expected to release a public notice of the singleton applications giving the opportunity to file a long-form FM translator application with full engineering, and asking for LPFM non-preclusion showings where required.  Assuming that a long-form singleton application is grantable, a grant of an FM translator construction permit is the next step.     

For remaining FM translator applications that are mutually-exclusive with other applications even after the mass dismissal procedure, the FCC will open a settlement window in which either engineering changes may be filed, or agreements between applicants may be reached, to eliminate mutual-exclusivity.  If mutual-exclusivity remains even after such a settlement window, the FCC will then hold an auction between remaining mutually-exclusive applications. 

For AM radio stations seeking FM translators, the take-away from todays FCC actions is that there are likely to be several thousand FM translators granted that may potentially be used for carriage of an AM stations.  Whether or not these FM translators once granted and if for sale, may be moved to a location to re-broadcast the AM station, is a significant question.  Future transmitter site and channel moves of FM translators greatly depend upon how the FCC acts on the AM revitalization proposal now before it asking for the removal of current regulatory barriers to FM translator moves.  

For FM translator applicants, after almost ten years of waiting it appears that FCC processing of the applications may finally resume.   Ten years ago the FCC had regulatory barriers in place to keep FM translators from re-broadcasting AM and HD2 stations.   With those regulatory barriers being removed, the service that FM translators can provide to the listening public has been greatly expanded by the FCC. 

And for LPFM proponents, today marks the culmination of a long battle and high expectations in a quest to expand the LPFM service.   If nothing else, for the radio broadcasting industry LPFM stations may be end up being a training ground for future broadcasters, just as AM carrier current college radio stations were in past decades the incubator of future broadcasters, broadcast attorneys and FCC Chairmen.  




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