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When Is a Coordinate Correction Just a Coordinate Correction?

Last Thursday, the FCC’s Media Bureau issued a Letter Decision involving two disputed coordinate correction applications for a station’s main and auxiliary antennas that, at least on paper, proposed to increase the short spacing to another radio station. In the Letter Decision, the Media Bureau spelled out the circumstances under which a requested coordinate correction, absent an actual change in facilities, will be approved by the Media Bureau.

Certain FCC applications and registrations require parties to specify the geographic coordinates for the site that is the subject of the filing. Examples of such FCC filings include applications for modifications to an AM or FM broadcast station on FCC Form 301 or 302, antenna and tower registrations on FCC Form 854, and applications seeking authorization to operate studio transmitter links on FCC Form 601. The Letter Decision emphasized that the coordinates supplied to the FCC should be accurate not only to prevent interference among stations, but also to avoid unanticipated and potentially costly disputes like the one discussed in this decision.

As detailed in the Letter Decision, a California broadcaster filed applications seeking to correct its main and auxiliary transmitter site coordinates on FCC Form 302-FM pursuant to the FCC rule that allows a station to correct its coordinates by no more than three seconds of latitude and/or longitude without requesting a new construction permit. The applications in question were opposed by a broadcaster in an adjacent market who argued that the applications to correct the coordinates would impermissibly increase the existing short spacing between the applicant’s station and its station. While the correction of coordinates did technically reduce the stated distance between the stations, it did so by only 304 feet.

The Media Bureau stated in the Letter Decision that it is an “undisputed fact” that the coordinate changes proposed would increase the short spacing, but it decided to approve the applications because the increase in short spacing was negligible, or “de minimis.” In doing so, the Media Bureau relied on a 1998 case involving a coordinate correction that proposed a “paper” change in coordinates of a similar distance (less than a tenth of a kilometer).

However, the Media Bureau also concluded that in assessing the distances between transmitter sites to determine whether a short-spacing is increased under the FCC’s Rules, it will round distances to the nearest kilometer. Using this rounding methodology, the distance between the stations in the Letter Decision remained unchanged by the correction, since both the old and the new distances rounded to 221 kilometers, and therefore created no “change” in the short spacing between the stations.

The take away from the Letter Decision is that the Media Bureau will likely approve applications to correct coordinates that increase an existing short spacing where (i) the application is for correction of site data that does not involve an actual facility change; (ii) the correction raises no environmental or international (or other) issues; (iii) the difference between the authorized and corrected spacing involved is de minimis (keep in mind the only clear line even after the Letter Decision is that a tenth of a kilometer, or less, will be considered de minimis by the FCC); and (iv) a change of more than a tenth of a kilometer may be permissible where rounding to the nearest kilometer would indicate no change in the distance between stations.