A lot of things need
to happen before the FCC can sort out processing thousands of pending FM
translator applications before turning its attention to opening an application
window for new low-power FMs.
That became apparent
early on in a public meeting yesterday at the FCC’s headquarters here in
The commission has
received several comments from broadcasters, asking why most of the pending
translator applications from 2003 would need to be dismissed when it’s not
clear if that would make room for new LPFMs in the top 150 markets. In
explaining the agency’s recent processing decisions regarding FM translators
and LPFMs, FCC Audio Division Chief Peter Doyle said, “We’ve tried to respond
to the criticisms. We’re confident we can carry this out but I am concerned
about the complexity.”
The goal, he said,
is to preserve remaining allocation availabilities for both FM translators and
The point of the
meeting was to give guidance to FCC consulting engineers and communications
attorneys to help their clients decide which of their pending FM translators to
pursue for processing. The commission has adopted a national cap of 50
applications per entity and a market-based cap of one application per entity in
the most “spectrum-limited markets.”
attendees not to expect exceptions to the weeding out process, noting that the
“standards for waivers are extremely high. We need to keep this process moving
The Audio Division
is working on a Federal Register notice about the caps. Once that’s complete,
staffers will put together a notice for oppositions and reply comments,
according to division staff.
A core group of
communications attorneys and consulting engineers attended the briefing by the
Audio Division. The Association of Federal Communications Consulting Engineers
and Federal Communications Bar Association had pressed for the meeting.
Much of the
discussion centered on how to use the commission’s radio market “grid tool”
which attorneys or engineers would use to gain allocation information for their
clients’ FM translator allocation applications. The agency has a tentative
timeline mapped out for processing those applications, divided by whether a translator
choice is in a spectrum-limited or not in a spectrum-limited market as well as
other criteria, culminating with an LPFM application window in the spring or,
more likely, summer of 2013.
However that’s a
real guesstimate at this point, since the commission needs to adopt final
technical stations for LPFM first. “Until we have those we can’t talk about a
window,” said Jim Bradshaw, deputy chief of engineering for the Audio Division
Charles Cooper of
duTreil, Lundin & Rackley was one attendee who had sought the meeting. Both
he and Clear Channel’s Troy Langham said it was helpful and will lead to more
questions as they begin to sort through the tough decisions about which of the
pending FM translator applications to pursue.
anti-collusion rule — an auction-related rule that in this case would basically
keep applicants in the same market from talking to each other and making deals
on cap dismissals that not all applicants in that market would be a party to —
will be in affect when the broadcasters make their initial decisions about
which applications to pursue in order to comply with the caps. Broadcasters
were hoping that restriction would be waived.
Under its tentative
timeline, the commission would be looking to begin the cap compliance/dismissal
process this summer. The cap decision itself is under question as several
petitions for reconsideration have been filed, which could delay the
The advice from
Audio Division staffers to broadcasters is that when a window does open up, be
ready to file on the first day. That application window would be for
broadcasters to indicate the FM translator applications they want to keep and
the ones they will drop to comply with the caps.
Bradshaw said the
commission’s servers have been improved since 2003 when the system was
overwhelmed by thousands of filings. “If there is some kind of issue, if a
problem prevents [you] from filing, we can extend the window,” he said, meaning
in a worst-case scenario.
And what of those
who lose out in this go-round? They can reapply for an FM translator in the
next window, which would be after the LPFM window, according to FCC staff. That
was a hard pill to swallow for broadcasters that have been waiting since 2003,
several participants in the room told me.