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Battle Lines Are Drawn in Translator Interference Rules Order

Although many agree over one sticky issue: the use of U/D ratio in some cases to determine interference

This article has been modified since original posting.

People with strong feelings about translator interference complaints continued to argue over recent changes in August. One technical consulting firm said the use of a particular measurement ratio could usher in a series of “dire unintended consequences.”

In May the Federal Communications Commission adopted new proposals to streamline rules relating to interference caused by FM translators and adopted specific proposals to expedite resolution of complaints.

[Read: FCC Finalizes FM Translator Interference Rules]

The FCC allowed FM translators to resolve interference issues by changing channels, standardized information that must be submitted, established new resolution procedures and set a new outer contour limit interference complaints to be considered.

But in the months since, a number of organizations have called on the FCC to reconsider its stance.

The LPFM Coalition believes the rulemaking fails to meet certain statutory requirements within the Communications Act and the Local Community Radio Act of 2010.

Among other concerns, it argued that it fails to provide improvements for LPFM stations; that it undervalues multiple listener interference complaints that come from a single building; and that it requires that interference complaints contain data points that measure underlying interference using a calculation rubric that excludes any measure of interference. The coalition said the latter stipulation “is essentially a rule that negates itself.”

That calculation, the undesired-to-desired (U/D) ratio for determining interference, was mentioned in a separate filing by technical consulting firm Skywaves Consulting LLC.

It said the imposition of standard U/D ratios using standard FCC contour methodology could usher in a series of “dire unintended consequences.”

Skywaves said the use of a contour-based U/D study for each complaint is useful outside the protected contour but not within it. “The U/D ratio decreases within the protected contour as you approach the protected transmitter. Therefore, it appears that the new rule would eliminate from consideration all complaints of co-channel and first-adjacent channel translator interference within a protected station’s protected contour,” Skywaves wrote.

“This is clearly not an intended result, and this portion of the rule should be reworded to make it clear that the U/D ratio criterion applies only outside the protected contour.”

According to the counsel for the LPFM Coalition, the commission should issue a stay of the objectionable rulemaking aspects and rescind those provisions or issue a notice of further rulemaking to fix them.

Low-power station KGIG in Salida, Calif., agreed with the coalition’s stance, saying that conclusions in the rulemaking conflict with precedent and fact and could contravene the Administrative Procedure Act.

The LPFM Coalition’s stance also drew support from REC Networks, a consultancy that expressed specific concern about the use of a –20 dBu U/D ratio for determining interference.

“This standard, coupled with the 45 dBu outer limit, would mean that a station could formulate an interference complaint in areas where the new FM translator only places a 26 dBu contour,” REC Networks said. “This can open the door to more fraudulent and frivolous claims against very well distant translators.”

The National Association of Broadcasters said the LPFM Coalition “simply rehashes previously rejected arguments” that the Local Community Radio Act of 2010 requires equivalent regulation for LPFMs and FM translators.

The association asked the FCC to reject the coalition’s concerns about the rule requiring multiple listener complaints using separate receivers at separate locations (and thus that multiple complaints from one building are to be counted as a single complaint).

The NAB also said the coalition’s argument fails to meet a necessary list of four standards for a stay; the coalition responded saying “NAB is wrong on the law” and that no mandatory stringent four-prong test applies.

The NAB did not address the U/D issue in its first filing. In a subsequent one, the NAB said that it agrees with Skywaves’ assessment that the order’s requirement of a contour-based U/D study for every interference complaint could unintentionally impede consideration of legitimate translator complaints.

A group of several big-name broadcasters, filing jointly, praised the commission’s order as a balanced approach but expressed concern about the U/D threshold. They include Beasley Media Group, Cox Media Group, Entercom Communications, iHeart Communications, Neuhoff Corp. and Radio One Licenses. These groups have both primary FM stations and FM translators.

They said the order will undoubtedly bring more consistency, predictability and speed to the process of resolving translator interference situations. But they said there is a real, if rare, possibility that the U/D threshold for actionable complaints could impair legitimate interference complaints based on listeners within a desired station’s protected contour.

The group recommended that the FCC consider exempting listening locations from the U/D showing if they are within the desired station’s protected contour.

Comments on the issue are being accepted as part of Media Bureau Docket 18-119.

Comment on this or any story at [email protected] with “Letter to the Editor” in the subject field.

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