WASHINGTON — As most of you know, translators on the FM band are authorized on a secondary basis and have no protection against subsequently authorized full-service FM facilities.
Overall, the number of licensed FM translators has grown from approximately 1,850 in 1990 to approximately 7,575 in 2017, according to the FCC, and there are more than 700 new translator construction permits authorized and 1100 applications for new translator construction permits pending.
“The growth in the number of translator stations has led to an increasing number of interference disputes between translator stations and full-service stations. However, resolving these fact-intensive disputes can currently be quite time-consuming,” according to the commission, and on April 19, it published an NPRM that seeks to “streamline the resolution of such interference complaints, strike an appropriate balance between the interests of translator stations and other licensees, and conserve licensee resources.”
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – MB Docket No. 18-119, would do the following:
- Propose to allow FM translators the flexibility, upon a showing of interference to or from any other broadcast station, to change channels to any available same-band channel using a minor modification application.
- Propose to improve the commission’s FM translator interference complaint and resolution process by requiring a minimum number of listener complaints to be included with any interference claim, clarifying the required content of each listener complaint, and streamlining and expediting interference resolution procedures by reducing listener involvement in favor of a clear, quick, and technically-based process.
- Propose to align the criteria used to assess actual and predicted interference from translator stations.
- Seek comment on a contour limit containing most of the listeners for the affected station beyond which listener complaints would not be actionable.
One of the FCC’s proposals in the NPRM is that it will require at least six complaints from listeners unaffiliated with any complaining station (e.g. not employees, owners, or contractors of the complaining station or their family members) before such as complaint will be considered valid.
“The idea is to make sure that there is a real widespread interference issue — so that a unique listener with some unusual affinity for a distant station can’t block the service from a new translator,” writes David Oxenford in broadcastlawblog.com.
The FCC tentatively finds that a listener will need to state that they have listened to the complaining station at least twice in the month before the complaint to be considered a regular listener. The FCC also tentatively finds that stations can reach out to its listeners to see if they are getting complaints from new translators; it does not need to “sit back and wait for complaints to roll in.”
“The FCC also is ready to propose that, instead of interference being determined subjectively by the ears of a listener, interference would be measured by objective criteria. Interference that occurs outside a station’s 54 dbu contour would not be protected at all,” according to Oxenford.
Other complaints would be resolved through the application of formulas that the FCC already uses to determine interference based on the ratio between desired and undesired signal levels, and potentially, with “on/off” tests of the translator, to see if complainants can distinguish that condition.
If you find yourself involved in an interference fight, you should definitely read the NPRM and comment, or instruct your communications attorney to do so. See the NPRM here.