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FCC Clarifies Class D FM Exemption

Public file rule language got dropped somewhere along the line

The Federal Communications Commission is clarifying a question about public inspection files for Class D FM stations.

Section 73.3527 of its rules explains obligations of noncommercial educational stations in regard to their online public inspection files. Nonexempt NCE stations are required to include a list of programs showing their most significant treatment of community issues during the previous three months.

But the rule did not define “nonexempt” or clarify which stations are exempt from that requirement.

In a new order, the FCC now has clarified that Class D FMs do not have to comply: “Exempt licensees include those offering wholly instructional programming and those operating under Class D, 10-watt authorizations.”

There are about 100 such stations in the United States.

It was back in 1984 that the commission last visited the requirement for stations to maintain issues/programs lists. At that time the FCC noted that Class D FMs are exempt due to the limited nature of the service they provide.

But even though the commission’s order highlighted that exemption, the actual text of the new Section 73.3527 inadvertently omitted the language.

Afterward, an order by the Mass Media Bureau noted that the exemption had been omitted.

But there was further confusion. The Class D note inadvertently was deleted again in 1988.

Making things worse, in 2009, the Media Bureau issued a forfeiture order in a case involving the University of Montana Western in which it specifically rejected an argument that Class D FM stations are exempt.

Now the FCC has clarified that it never actually rescinded the Class D exemption. “In reaching this determination, we are guided by the fact that the commission never proposed to issue, and never issued, an order rescinding the Class D Note or otherwise deleting the Class D Note from section 73.3527,” wrote Media Bureau Chief Holly Saurer.

She also wrote that the bureau “disavows” its erroneous 2009 ruling.

[Read the text of the new order.]