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FCC Nixes Call to Tweak NCE Licensing Rules

Petition called on FCC to set up a secondary grant policy for those applying for an NCE license

The Federal Communications Commission has put the kibosh on a request to make an important change in its noncommercial educational (NCE) licensing rules.

In this case, Discount Legal asked the commission to reconsider the way the FCC licenses mutually exclusive (MX) FM radio noncommercial educational groups. Discount Legal is a Bay Area law firm that specializes in community radio. They argued that the FCC should set up a secondary grant policy for MX groups, saying this would foster a more efficient nationwide radio communication service and generally encourage more effective use of radio.

[Read: FCC Eliminates Radio Duplication Rule for Both AM and FM Bands]

As it stands today, when a filing window for NCE stations is opened, the commission places conflicting applications into MX groups before applying internal processing. It then selects one application for grant from each separate MX group. A point system is given to each application based on public-interest criteria (such as diversity of ownership, localism or technical superiority) and that the application with the most points in an MX group is the tentative selectee.

But when it comes to the idea of naming runner-up applications, the commission dismissed the idea for two main reasons: One, it would be burdensome to FCC staff to create and implement a secondary grant procedure; and two, it would potentially give a green light to inferior applications.

Discount Legal countered by saying that nearly all the work to determine secondary grants has been done already.

“The fruit of all that work remains available for secondary analysis,” the firm said in its petition for reconsideration. “Once the first selectee becomes final, the group can be re-scanned at a glance for applicants not in MX conflict with the winner. Freestanding applicants can be selected secondarily. Others, in subconflict, can be readily compared under the point system from work previously done.”

But the FCC disagreed, saying it has repeatedly stressed that the goal of the NCE licensing process is to maximize the quality of grantees, not simply to grant the maximum number of applications.

“The commission’s one-grant policy is designed to encourage the best possible application submissions in every filing window,” the commission said.

“By having only one grantee per MX group, but allowing all non-selectees to reapply in the next window, the commission creates virtuous incentives, which yield a higher-quality result than a policy of granting as many applications as possible, regardless of quality.”

As a result, the commission dismissed and denied the petition of Discount Legal.