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2015, It Appears, Will Spell the End for Franken FMs

FCC appears to reject using Channel 6 to expand FM band

The FCC has established a hard deadline for low-power television stations, Class A television stations and television translators to stop analog operations and convert to digital.

Among other ramifications, the decision means an end is in sight those so-called “Franken FMs,” LPTVs on Channel 6 that use or lease out their analog aural carriers on 87.7 MHz to create what are essentially radio stations. However, the “end” won’t arrive for another four years.

As RW has reported, those operators say they’re programming to unserved audiences.

In its order (PDF), the FCC stated that LPTV or TV translators operating on Channels 52–69 must end analog or digital operation by Dec. 31, 2011. All LPTV or TV translators operating on Channels 2 to 51 must end analog operation by Sept. 1, 2015.

The expiration dates for all CPs for digital facilities held by existing analog operations are automatically extended until Sept. 1, 2015. New digital facilities given three years to complete construction are not extended automatically but may seek an extension.

The commission also is allowing LPTVs operating in the UHF band to increase power from the current 300 watts to 3,000 watts to overcome interference in that portion of the band.

The commission earlier had considered a more aggressive year-end 2011 timetable for LPTVs to vacate their analog channels, but seems to have backed off that, attorney David Oxenford notes in the Davis Wright Tremaine blog.

NPR and others had asked that LPTVs not be able to use Channel 6, due to the potential for interference with noncom radio stations at the lower reserved portion of the FM band, we’ve reported. Other groups have requested Channel 6 be re-allotted for radio use.

However the FCC rejected the notion of re-purposing analog TV Channel 6 as part of the FM band, “apparently deciding to maintain this channel for TV use for the foreseeable future,” Oxenford writes. “The FCC did note, however, that LPTV stations, as secondary stations, must protect full-power FM operations in the noncommercial band. That question has come up from time to time in the past without a clear answer.”

Several petitioners have asked the FCC to consider re-purposing both analog TV Channels 5 and 6 for radio. However given the Channel 6 decision in this order, writes Oxenford, “it appears that the broader proposals for the use of these channels for radio are on hold while the FCC considers spectrum repacking issues as part of the proposed reclamation of parts of the television band for wireless broadband use.”

He adds that the order, or portions or it, could be appealed.