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FCC Addresses Reconsideration Petitions on FM Translator Interference Rules

The commission responded to four groups who asked the commission to reconsider parts of its report and order

While many organizations cheered the way in which the Federal Communications Commission revamped the rules for dealing with FM translator interference complaints, others are asking the commission to stop and reconsider some of its decisions.

Among those asking for reconsideration were a group of four — including the LPFM Coalition; Fellowship of the Earth/KGIG(LP) in Salida, Calif.; Skywaves Communications; and Charles M. Anderson — all of whom filed petitions in July 2019 asking the commission to reconsider parts of the order it released within “Amendment Part 74 of the Commission’s Rules Regarding FM Translator Interference.”

[Read: Latest U.S. Station Totals Reveal Boom in Translators]

Among the new rules were adopted were these three: FM translators causing or receiving interference with another station now have the flexibility to change channels using a minor modification application; interference claims must now follow a standardized process that sets a bar for a minimum number of listener complaints and sets a new undesired-to-desired (U/D) data ratio around signal strength; and a rule that says the only interference complaints that will be considered are those with an outer contour limit of 45 dBu signal strength.

A petition filed by two of the filers — the LPFM Coalition and Fellowship — stated that a low-power FM preclusion study should be included every time a translator files a modification application as dictated by the Local Community Radio Act. The FCC disagreed with this argument, though, saying that the LCRA refers to new FM translator stations not modification applications. “Requiring such preclusion studies would be contrary to the aim of this proceeding, namely, to streamline the translator interference rules and to expedite the translator complaint resolution process,” the FCC said in its response.

The FCC also fielded an argument by Fellowship that charged that the nonadjacent channel change rule for translators violates what is known as the Ashbacker doctrine. That doctrine held that grant of a waiver requesting that a single long-distance transmitter move as a minor modification could potentially violate a competing applicants’ rights. The Supreme Court ruled in this case that where two applications are mutually exclusive, the grant of one without considering the other violates the rights of the second applicant.

But the Ashbacker doctrine does not apply to prospective applicants, the FCC said, only to those who have filed timely, mutually exclusive applications. The goal of many of the changes made in the order is to simplify the process, not make it more complex, the FCC said. In this particular case, the goal is to allow FM translator stations to deal with interference by treating channel changes as minor.

“To treat these changes as major, and therefore subject to competing applications, would undermine our efforts to provide FM translator stations with an efficient means to remediate interference,” the FCC said.

The FCC also dismissed a number of other arguments, including one by Anderson who argued that the minimum number of listener complaints should be changed from three to six. The FCC declined to consider this, saying it already thoroughly considered this issue during the original proceeding.

The commission also denied an argument from the LPFM Coalition regarding how it should handle multiple complaints from a single building. The FCC ruled that any consistent interference problem must stem from listener evidence gathered from multiple, unique locations. The commission did agree, however, that an operator must address each valid interference complaint, even if they all originate from the same building.

The commission also rejected Skywaves’ suggestion to allow listeners complaints from anywhere within the complaining station’s protected contour — even if the listener location does not satisfy the ratio of undesired to desired signal strength (the U/D test).

The U/D data requirement serves as a threshold test to eliminate obvious instances where the translator could not be the source of the alleged interference, the FCC said. “For example, a listener could be located on the opposite side of the protected contour from the translator station, with the complaining station’s transmitter located in between,” the FCC wrote. “In this situation, the translator could not possibly be the source of the alleged interference, yet under Skywaves’ proposal, we would accept the listener complaint as valid.”

The FCC said it is also not persuaded that extending the range of potential listener complaints to include all of the complaining station’s protected contour area is necessary.

“If a ‘real and consistent’ interference problem caused by a translator should occur, we anticipate that the affected station will be able to readily obtain the required minimum number of listener complaints from within the zone of potential interference.”

The FCC also reaffirmed the establishment of an outer contour limit of 45 dBu signal strength of the complaining station. Outside of this limit, interference complaints will not be considered. The commission also reaffirmed that all of the newly adopted rules will be applicable to applications or complaints that are pending.

As with many of the arguments in the filings, the FCC reminded the petitioners that it has set rules on what it reviews: reconsideration is generally appropriate only when new information is raised or if the petitioner can show the FCC made a mistake.

More comments on the Report and Order can be found within the FCC’s ECFS database using Media Bureau Docket 18-119.