Yesterday, the FCC adopted a Fifth Order on Reconsideration and a Sixth Report and Order (Sixth R&O) designed to facilitate the processing of approximately 6,000 long-pending FM translator applications and to establish new rules for low power FM (LPFM) stations. The result is that the FCC anticipates opening a filing window for applications for new LPFM stations in October 2013.
A number of parties had filed petitions for reconsideration (in response to the FCC’s March 19, 2012 Fourth Report and Order in this proceeding) challenging the FCC’s new limit on the number of translator applications that could be pursued both on a per-market basis and under a national cap. In response to those challenges, the FCC’s just released Fifth Order on Reconsideration: (1) establishes a national limit of 70 applications so long as no more than 50 of those applications specify communities located inside any of the markets listed in Appendix A to that Order; (2) increases the per-market cap from one application to up to three applications per market in 156 larger markets, subject to certain conditions; and (3) clarifies the application of the per-market cap in “embedded” markets.
In the Sixth R&O, the FCC laid the groundwork for introducing LPFM stations to major urban markets. As mandated by the Local Community Radio Act, the Sixth R&O also establishes a second-adjacent channel spacing waiver standard and an interference-remediation scheme to ensure that LPFM stations operating with these waivers will not cause interference to other stations. In addition, the Sixth R&O creates separate third-adjacent channel interference remediation procedures for short-spaced and fully-spaced LPFM stations, and addresses the potential for predicted interference to FM translator input signals from LPFM stations operating on third-adjacent channels.
The Sixth R&O also revises the following LPFM rules to better promote the localism and diversity goals of the LPFM service:
- modifies the point system used to select among mutually exclusive LPFM applicants by adding new criteria to promote the establishment and staffing of a main studio, radio service proposals by Tribal Nations to serve Tribal lands, and the entry of new parties into radio broadcasting. A “bonus” point also has been added to the selection criteria for applicants eligible for both the local program origination and main studio credits;
- clarifies that the localism requirement applies not only to LPFM applicants, but to LPFM permittees and licensees as well;
- permits cross-ownership of an LPFM station and up to two FM translator stations, but imposes restrictions on such cross-ownership to ensure that the LPFM service retains its local focus;
- provides for the licensing of LPFM stations to Tribal Nations, and permits Tribal Nations to own or hold attributable interests in up to two LPFM stations;
- revises the existing exception to the cross-ownership rule for student-run stations;
- adopts mandatory time-sharing procedures for LPFM stations that operate less than 12 hours per day;
- modifies the involuntary time-sharing procedures, shifting from sequential to concurrent license terms and limiting involuntary time-sharing arrangements to three applicants;
- eliminates the LP10 class of LPFM facilities; and
- eliminates the intermediate frequency protection requirements applicable to LPFM stations.
If some of the above changes seem a bit cryptic, it is because the FCC has issued only a News Release briefly summarizing the changes. Once the FCC releases the full text of the orders, we will have a much more detailed understanding of the modifications. The full texts will hopefully become available in the next few days. In the meantime, radio broadcasters, particularly those with large numbers of FM translator applications pending, will be doing their best to assess how these FCC actions will affect their current and proposed broadcast operations.