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FCC Finalizes FM Translator Interference Rules

Commission says new rules are fair and reliable

The Federal Communications Commission has moved ahead with its new guidelines for resolving FM translator interference complaint issues, a move that the National Association of Broadcasters said is a “common-sense compromise.”

It its May meeting, the commission adopted a Report and Order that it says streamlines and improves the FM translator interference complaint and resolution process due to the increasing number of FM translator stations and their growing economic importance for AM and digital FM stations.

[Read: FCC to Vote on New FM Translator Interference Rules]

In attempting to improve the rules governing FM translator interference complaints the order has solidified the following rules.

  • Translator operators can now change frequency to any available same-band channel as a minor change in response to interference issues;
  • A station is now required to submit a minimum number of listener complaints when submitting a claim of interference. And those numbers must be proportionate to the population the station serves;
  • The rules now standardize the contents of each listener complaint;
  • New interference resolution procedures now permit (but do not require) complaining listeners to cooperate with remediation efforts. In addition, a new process is in place for demonstrating that interference has been resolved;
  • And an outer contour limit of 45 dBμ has been established so that any complaints beyond that contour will not be considered. The commission also instituted a waiver process for certain situations.

The NAB said the FCC deserves credit for endorsing a common-sense compromise for reviewing FM radio listener complaints that may arise from FM translator interference. “FM translators have been enormously helpful extending the reach of AM radio stations,” said NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton. “We’re pleased the FCC continues to embrace ideas that foster the revitalization of AM radio.”

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said that even though translators receive only secondary protection, “They are crucial parts of our radio landscape.”

“This item considers the robust record to try to balance interference concerns with the need for both FM stations and translators to continue to provide service to listeners,” he added.

There has been ongoing discussion by broadcasters and industry stakeholders about the final contour limits that the FCC planned to establish. The FCC had initially discussed an outer contour limit of 54 dBμ, though organizations like the New Jersey Broadcasters Association expressed concerns about how that proposed limit would impact stations. “We feel that any weakening of the protections that full-service licensees have and were originally granted would substantially create an impairment on the licenses and permits in derogation of the Communications Act,” said Paul S. Rotella, president and CEO of the NJBA.

The commission determined that setting a complaint limit at the 45 dBμ contour “best balances full-service, secondary service, and listener interests by providing a contour limit that encompasses the bulk of full-service core listenership while limiting complaints at the margins of listenable coverage,” the FCC said in its proposed draft order.

“By establishing a fixed ‘contour’ for the timeline needed to resolve complaints, we add an even higher level of predictability to the process,” said Commissioner Michael O’Rielly.

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