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May 2014

Class A and Full-Power Television Broadcasters in All Markets Regardless of Network Affiliation and Market Rank Must Comply with the Online Retention of Political Programming Materials as of July 1, 2014

The FCC recently published in the Federal Register a reminder that all Class A and full-power television broadcasters must, by July 1, 2014, begin maintaining new political advertising materials mandated by Section 73.1943 of the Commission’s Rules in the station’s online public inspection file.

As previously reported, pursuant to the FCC’s Second Report and Order (“R&O”), adopted in May 2012, Class A and full-power television stations affiliated with the top four networks in the top 50 Designated Market Areas (“DMAs”) have been required to comply with the online political file rule since August 2, 2012.

The R&O stayed the online political file requirement for all Class A and full-power television stations that are not a top four network station in the top 50 DMAs until July 1, 2014. Accordingly, from July 1, 2014 forward, all stations, regardless of network affiliation or DMA, must begin keeping their political file in their online public inspection file. Notably, while political advertising documents created on or after July 1, 2014 must be placed in the online public file, stations should continue to retain hard copies of pre-July 1, 2014 documents in their physical public file to comply with the two-year retention period for political file documents set forth in Section 73.3526(e)(6).

The Federal Register notice can be viewed here.

A pdf version of this article can be found at Client Alert.

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If there had been any doubt that the Video Division of the FCC’s Media Bureau would check a television station’s online public inspection file to confirm the truthfulness of certifications made by the licensee in a pending license renewal application, that doubt has been eliminated.

In a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture released December 3, the Video Division has proposed a $9,000 fine against the licensee of two Michigan televisions stations on the grounds that (i) each station had filed their Children’s Television Programming Reports (“Kidvid Reports”) late, and (ii) the stations failed to report those violations in responding to one of the certifications contained in their license renewal applications.

According to the FCC, the licensee had filed each station’s Kidvid Report late for three quarters during the license term in violation of Section 73.3526(e)(11)(iii) of the Commission’s Rules.

The problem was compounded when the licensee failed to disclose those violations in responding to Section IV, Question 3 of the Form 303-S, which requires licensees to certify “that the documentation, required by 47 C.F.R. Section 73.3526…has been placed in the station’s public inspection file at the appropriate times.” That same certification requires the applicant to submit an exhibit explaining any violations.

The Video Division of the FCC proposed that each station be assessed a fine of $3,000, the base forfeiture amount for failing to timely file Kidvid Reports, plus a fine of $1,500 for omitting from its renewal applications information regarding those violations. The Division suggested that it could have fined each station $3,000, rather than $1,500, for the reporting failure, but reduced the amount because each licensee “made a good faith effort to identify other deficiencies.”

Fortunately for the licensee in this case, it had checked the certification box with a “no,” and disclosed that its quarterly issues/programs lists had not been timely uploaded to the FCC’s online public file for the station. While the licensee did not mention anything about the late-filed Kidvid Reports, apparently the Video Division believed that the licensee’s failure to disclose was intentional enough to warrant a fine, but not deliberate enough to warrant a charge of misrepresentation or lack of candor that could have resulted in a much larger fine or worse.

The lessons learned from the Video Division’s action include: before signing off and filing a station license renewal application, (i) check the FCC’s online database to make sure that it has a record of all documents that were required to be timely filed, (ii) check the station’s paper (in the case of radio) and online (in the case of television) public inspection file to confirm (or not) that the file is complete and that the documents required to be in the file were placed there on a timely basis, and (iii) discuss with counsel what may need to be disclosed (or not disclosed) in response to certifications contained in a station’s application for renewal of license.

Of future concern is whether the Media Bureau will now be more inclined to impose even higher fines, claiming misrepresentation/lack of candor, where a license renewal applicant makes an unqualified affirmative certification that is not correct, or where the applicant states that it is unable to make an affirmative certification and provides an explanation, but does not fully disclose all material facts in its explanation. Recently the Media Bureau imposed a $17,000 fine against a station for violating Section 1.17 (misrepresentation/lack of candor) after having concluded that had the station “exercised even minimal due diligence, it would not have submitted incorrect and misleading material factual information to the Commission.” The Bureau made a point of the fact that the base statutory fine for misrepresentation or lack of candor is $37,500. Affirmative due diligence and caution are your best insurance policies in avoiding such a new and unbudgeted line item expense on your company’s next P&L.

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Yesterday, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rule Making setting forth a number of potential changes to its technical rules governing AM radio designed to revitalize AM stations and enhance the quality of AM service.

In the past several years, the Commission has instituted several changes to its AM rules and policies in hopes of improving AM radio and reducing the regulatory burdens on AM broadcasters. Among these are:

  • 2005 and 2008 – Announced simplified AM licensing procedures for KinStar (2005) and Valcom (2008) low-profile and streamlined AM antennas, which provide additional siting flexibility for non-directional stations to locate in areas where local zoning approval for taller towers cannot be obtained;
  • 2006 – Adopted streamlined procedures for AM station community of license changes;
  • 2008 – Adopted moment method modeling as an alternative methodology to verify AM directional antenna performance, reducing the cost of AM proof of performance showings substantially;
  • 2009 – Authorized rebroadcasting of AM stations on FM translators, which has proven to be extremely successful, with over 10% of all AM stations now using FM translators to provide improved daytime and nighttime service to their communities of license;
  • 2011 – Authorized AM stations to use Modulation Dependent Carrier Level (“MDCL”) control technologies, which allow AM stations to cut energy costs through reduced electrical consumption on transmissions and related cooling functions;
  • 2011 – Announced an FM translator minor modification rule waiver policy and waiver standards to expand opportunities for AM stations to provide fill-in coverage with FM translators;
  • 2012 – Authorized all future FM translator stations licensed from Auction 83 to be used for AM station rebroadcasting;
  • 2012 – Granted first Experimental Authorization for all-digital AM operation; and
  • 2013 – Improved protection to AM stations from potential re-radiators and signal pattern disturbances by establishing a single protection scheme for tower construction and modification near AM tower arrays, and designating moment method modeling as the principal means of determining whether a nearby tower affects an AM radiation pattern.

Now, with the introduction of yesterday’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making, the FCC is considering yet more changes to its rules to help AM radio. Among the proposals in the Notice of Proposed Rule Making are:
(1) Open an FM translator filing window exclusively for AM licensees and permittees during which AM broadcasters may apply for a single FM translator station in the commercial FM band to be used solely to rebroadcast the AM station’s signal to provide fill-in and/or nighttime service. The window, as proposed, would have the following limitations:

  • Applications filed during this window must strictly comply with the existing restrictions on fill-in coverage governing AM use of FM translators (e.g., they must be located so that no part of the 60 dBu contour of the FM translator will extend beyond the smaller of a 25-mile radius from the AM station’s transmitter site, or the AM station’s daytime 2 mV/m contour; and
  • Any FM translator station authorized though this filing window will be permanently linked to the licensee or permittee of the primary AM station acquiring the authorization, and the FM translator authorization may not be assigned or transferred except in conjunction with that AM station.

(2) Modify the daytime community coverage standards for existing AM stations contained in Section 74.24(i) of the FCC’s Rules to require only that stations cover either 50% of the population or 50% of the area of the station’s community of license with a daytime 5 mV/m signal. This proposal would not affect applications for new AM stations, or proposals to change the community of license of an existing AM station, both of which will continue to require that 100% of the community of license receive at least a 5 mV/m signal during the day, and cover at least 80% of the community of license at night with a nighttime interference-free signal.

(3) Modify nighttime community coverage requirements for existing AM stations by (i) eliminating the nighttime coverage requirement for existing licensed AM stations, and (ii) in the case of new AM stations and AM stations seeking to change their community of license, modify the rules so the station would be required to cover either 50% of the population or 50% of the area of the community of license with a nighttime 5 mV/m signal or a nighttime interference-free contour, whichever value is higher.

(4) Delete the AM “Ratchet Rule,” which currently results in a reduction of nighttime signal coverage for AM stations relocating their licensed facilities.

(5) Permit wider implementation of Modulation Dependent Carrier Level control technologies by amending the FCC’s rules to allow AM stations to commence operation using MDCL control technologies without seeking prior FCC authority, provided that they notify the FCC of the MDCL operation using the Media Bureau’s Consolidated Database System within 10 days of commencing such operation.

(6) Modify AM antenna efficiency standards, and consider whether the minimum field strength values set forth in various technical rules could be reduced by approximately 25%.

While the changes under consideration are significant, AM broadcasters will have a fair amount of time to contemplate them before comments on the proposals are due at the FCC. The comment deadline will be 60 days after Federal Register publication of the Notice of Proposed Rule Making, with reply comments due 30 days after that.

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As we prepare to head down to Orlando for the NAB/RAB Radio Show next week, I wanted to remind those who will be at the Show that Pillsbury is again sponsoring the Leadership Breakfast. This year, the event will be in Gatlin Ballroom D at the Rosen Creek Shingle Hotel on Thursday, September 19, beginning at 7:15 a.m., with the presentations to begin at 7:45 am. As before, we will have opening remarks from Marci Ryvicker, a Managing Director with Wells Fargo Securities and Wall Street’s number one broadcast analyst, and then a panel featuring Lew Dickey (CEO of Cumulus Media), Mary Quass (CEO of NRG Media), Jeffrey Warshaw (CEO of Connoisseur Media), and Larry Wilson (CEO of Alpha Broadcasting and L&L Broadcasting).

This year’s event should prove to be especially timely because of changes in the economy and the increased M&A activity, particularly with regard to radio. Cumulus has just announced deals with Townsquare Media to sell some stations and acquire others as well as a separate deal to buy Westwood One; Connoisseur as well as L&L Broadcasting have been active in buying stations; and NRG is always in the hunt. Beyond the particulars for individual companies are new technological developments, including the placement of an FM chip in Sprint’s mobile phones, which will help make radio that much more ubiquitous in the digital world.

The Leadership Breakfast is always a packed event (in part because of a free hot breakfast!), and I expect this year to be no different.

On a separate front, my Pillsbury partner Scott Flick will be speaking on an NAB panel (to be held on Wednesday, September 18, at 10:15 a.m. in Gatlin Ballroom A4) entitled “And the Answer Is: What is Radio Regulatory Jeopardy?” As regular readers of CommLawCenter have probably picked up from his posts here, Scott has an encyclopedic knowledge of FCC rules and decisions, and the session will no doubt be an entertaining and informative look at troublesome FCC issues.

Some of my other colleagues — including Dick Zaragoza, Miles Mason and Andy Kersting — will also be at the Show. One of the great benefits of NAB shows is the opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, so if you are going to be there, feel free to reach out to any of us and we’ll try to get together. We look forward to seeing you there.

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The August 20, 2013 Federal Register (“FedReg”) included a notice officially establishing the comment and reply cycle associated with the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC” or “Commission”) recently released Modernizing the E-Rate Program for Schools and Libraries Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”).1 According to the FedReg notice, comments are due September 16, 2013 and reply comments are due October 16, 2013. This is the Commission’s latest effort to modernize and streamline the E-Rate program.

The catalyst for this ambitious initiative is President Obama’s ConnectED initiative (the “Initiative”)2, which establishes that within five years 99 percent of U.S. students will have access to broadband and high-speed Internet access (at least 100 MBPS with a goal of 1 GPS within five years) within their schools and libraries. The Initiative includes: 1) providing the training and support for teachers needed for the effective use of technology in the classroom and 2) encouraging the development and deployment of complimentary devices and software to enhance learning experiences and 3) resurrecting the U.S. as a world leader in educational achievement.

The E-rate program was created in 1997 to “ensur[e] that schools and libraries ha[d] the connectivity necessary to enable students and library patrons to participate in the digital world.”3 According to the NPRM, the program commenced when “only 14 percent of the classrooms had access to the Internet, and most schools with Internet access (74 percent) used dial-up Internet access.”4 Seven years later, “nearly all schools had access to the Internet, and 94 percent of all instructional classrooms had Internet access.” A year later, “nearly all public libraries were connected to the Internet….”5
The E-rate program requires recipients to file annual funding requests. Those funding requests are categorized as either Priority One or Priority Two. Priority One funds may be applied to support telecommunications services, telecommunications and Internet access services, including but not limited to, digital transmission services, e-mail services, fiber and dark fiber, interconnected VoIP, paging, telephone service, voice mail service and wireless Internet access. Priority Two funds are allocated for support of internal connections, including, but not limited to, cabling/connectors, circuit cards and components, data distribution, data protection, interfaces, gateways and antennas, servers and software. The funds are calculated as discounts for acquiring, constructing and maintaining the services. Discount eligibility, which ranges between 20-90 percent, is established by the recipient’s status within the National School and Lunch Program (“NSLP”) or an “alternative mechanism”.6 The NPRM indicated that, “the most disadvantaged schools and libraries, where at least 75 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced price school lunch, receive a 90 percent discount on eligible services, and thus pay only 10 percent of the cost of those services.”7
The advent of high-capacity broadband has transformed Internet access into a portal by which students can experience interactive and collaborative learning experiences regardless of their geographic (rural or urban) location while preparing them to “compete in the global economy.”8 As with most improvements, this transformation is encumbered in the ways and means for acquiring, constructing and maintaining such technology. The E-rate program, including its administration and funding provisions, has remained relatively unchanged since 1997. The initial, and still current, cap on funding was $2.25 billion dollars. The FCC has indicated that requests for funding have exceeded that cap almost from the beginning. In 2013, requests for E-rate funding totaled more than $4.9 billion dollars.

Article continues — the full article can be found at FCC Commences E-Rate Program Overhaul.

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Recently, TVNewsCheck.com ran a short item noting that a large broadcast group (not a network owned and operated group) and a large multichannel video distributor (MVPD) successfully concluded carriage negotiations. There was no interruption of service. Given the successful outcome, I was surprised to see that someone posted a comment regarding the piece saying the deal illustrates why the FCC should tighten its broadcast ownership rules. No matter how many times I read comments of this sort, I am perplexed that people actually believe it’s a good thing for the government to mandate that broadcasters be the underdogs in all major negotiations that impact the quality and availability of broadcasters’ programming. If anything, government policy should encourage broadcasters to grow to a scale that is meaningful in today’s complex television marketplace. Not one of the other major distributors makes its programming available for free.

If independent (non-O&O) broadcasters aren’t permitted to achieve a scale large enough to negotiate effectively with upstream programmers and downstream distributors, you won’t have to wait long see high cost, high quality, high value programming available for free to those who choose to opt out of the pay TV ecosystem. It’s much better to have two, three or four strong competitors in each market, owned by companies that can compete for rational economics in the upstream and downstream markets, than to have eight or more weak competitors, few of which can afford to invest in truly local service or negotiate at arms-length with program suppliers and distributors.

For those who have not been paying attention, the television market has changed profoundly in the past 20 years. The big programmers and the big MVPDs have gotten a whole lot bigger. The largest non-O&O broadcast groups have grown too, but not nearly as much. Fox, Disney/ABC, NBCU and the other programmers are vastly bigger companies with incomparable market power vis-a-vis even the largest broadcast groups. The same is true of the large MVPDs, which together serve the great majority of television households.

There’s nothing inherently bad about big content aggregators and big MVPD distributors. And anyway, they are a fact of life. Despite their size, each is trying to deliver a competitive service and deliver good returns for shareholders. That’s what they are supposed to do, and in general (with a few exceptions) they serve the country well. But again, they are much, much larger than even the largest broadcast groups. If you believe that having a viable and competitive free television option is a good thing, that’s a problem.

So in response to the suggestion that the FCC further limit the scale of broadcasters, I reply: why does the government make it so damn hard for the only television service that is available for free to bargain and compete with vastly larger enterprises that are comparatively unregulated?

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In response to a request by the Coalition for Broadcast Investment (“Coalition”), the FCC, through its Media Bureau, has invited the filing of comments on the question of whether the Commission should now be open to allowing non-citizens and foreign companies to hold more than a 25% equity interest in U.S. radio and television stations. The deadline for filing comments is April 15, with reply comments due by April 30.

The Coalition is comprised of national broadcast networks, radio and television station licensees, as well as community and consumer organizations. It is urging the FCC to publicly commit, going forward, to considering on their individual merits transactions proposing significant foreign investment in broadcast stations, rather than reflexively rejecting foreign ownership above the 25% mark, as the FCC has traditionally done when reviewing broadcast transactions.

But for the Commission’s decades-old refusal to be flexible, the Coalition’s request would not have been necessary as Section 310(b)(4) of the Communications Act states that a broadcast license will not be granted to “any corporation directly or indirectly controlled by any other corporation of which more than one-fourth of the capital stock is owned of record or voted by aliens, their representatives, or by a foreign government or representative thereof, or by any corporation organized under the laws of a foreign country, if the Commission finds that the public interest will be served by the refusal or revocation of such license.” The very language of the Act therefore indicates that alien ownership above the 25% mark will be permitted unless the FCC specifically finds that such foreign ownership would not, in the particular situation presented, serve the public interest.

Despite the language of the statute, the FCC has routinely declined to consider broadcast-related transactions proposing more than 25% foreign ownership of a broadcast parent company. The Coalition contends that, by considering the merits foreign ownership proposals in excess of the 25% mark, the FCC will encourage “access to additional and new sources of investment capital [which] will benefit the broadcast industry and American consumers by financing advanced infrastructure, innovative services and high quality programming; and by promoting the creation of highly skilled, well-paying jobs” as well as “provide new opportunities for minority businesses and entrepreneurs, whose access to the domestic capital markets has been limited….”

A clear statement by the FCC that it will now review, on the merits, radio and television transactions proposing significant foreign investment in U.S. broadcast stations should send a very constructive signal to the broadcast industry, to potential foreign investors and to U.S. investors looking to syndicate more of their capital needs offshore for U.S. broadcast investments. Such a new openness and flexibility on the part of the Commission will also serve to create a more equitable “access to capital” environment for broadcasters particularly in relation to other forms of media.

Future Commission actions publicly approving, disapproving and conditioning transactions proposing “plus 25%” foreign ownership will, over time, provide the necessary predictability that is so important for investment decision-making. Pillsbury has considerable experience in crafting FCC-friendly ownership/control structures for banks, companies and firms with foreign ownership that wish to invest in U.S. broadcast stations. Action by the Commission on the Coalition’s letter will hopefully simplify and speed the heretofore painstaking process of balancing the return on investment objectives of foreign investors against the need to meet the letter and intent of the FCC’s rules and policies with respect to foreign ownership of U.S. broadcast stations.

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Introduction
June 1, 2011 marked the beginning of a four-year cycle during which all commercial and noncommercial radio and television stations in the United States will come under special scrutiny by the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) as the FCC considers whether to renew each station’s license to broadcast.

This is a period of regulatory uncertainty and vulnerability for stations, during which the FCC closely reviews their record of compliance with its rules and service to the public during the license term, and third parties have the opportunity to petition the FCC to deny the station’s license renewal request. One significant focus of the FCC’s and petitioners’ attention will be each station’s performance under the FCC’s rules concerning equal employment opportunity (“EEO”).

In light of the ongoing renewal cycle, this Guide is designed to assist stations in charting a course for full compliance going forward, as well as in evaluating their level of past compliance and the risks the station may face when filing its license renewal application.

Article continues — a full version of this article can be found at The FCC’s Equal Employment Opportunity Rules and Policies – A Guide for Broadcasters.

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The engineers who worked heroically to push broadcasting across the digital threshold had barely caught up on their sleep before agitation for more change began to erupt. The National Broadband Plan concluded that the amount of over-the-air viewing doesn’t justify the number of broadcast stations, and that the FCC could use incentive auctions to re-pack broadcasting into a smaller band of spectrum. Now incentive auctions are the law. This decade we will likely see more broadcast spectrum repurposed for mobile services and another “transition” as hundreds of broadcasters conform their facilities.

So what’s the connection between incentive auctions and talk of a new technical standard? The FCC thinks we need more spectrum for mobile services — in large part because of rising use of video on mobile devices. But the FCC’s rules dictate a broadcast television technical standard that means much of the most popular video — which is already available free-to-air — can’t be received by mobile devices. The FCC is right that spectrum best suited for mobile services should be useful for mobile services. So why stop with the highest frequency TV channels? If we’re going to do all the work of another transition, why not open a path for consumers to access the entire TV band with mobile devices? Many of the same forward-looking broadcasters that championed 8-VSB are working with others on a new standard that incorporates next-generation transmission technologies, as an article in TVNewsCheck reported earlier today. ATSC 3.0 would be easily accessible on mobile devices and provide a much better indoor viewing experience as well. And it will be ready to deploy when incentive auction repacking takes place.

But will every broadcaster want to upgrade at the same time? And what about consumers? FCC rules require all broadcasters to use the same digital standard to ensure universality — so every television can receive every broadcast signal. But not everybody thinks that’s the best policy. Back in the 1990s, the FCC itself debated whether it should select one standard, approve several standards, or simply let the market work things out. It adopted the ATSC standard, but it also asked whether the requirement to use that standard should sunset after a critical mass of deployment was reached.

Nobody wants a television Babel. But what does universal access mean when people increasingly consume their video on-the-move and on devices that we don’t think of as televisions? In my home near downtown Bethesda, Maryland, pretty close to many of the region’s television towers, I can reliably receive only three stations, even with an attic-mounted antenna. I can’t receive any broadcasts on any of my computers, tablets, or other mobile devices.

I love broadcast television, but in my case, it’s difficult or impossible to use most of the time. Millions of other Americans either don’t use over-the-air television directly, or use it less than they otherwise might, for similar reasons.

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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.