The Federal Communications Commission has turned its efforts to improving and streamlining rules for noncommercial educational broadcast and low-power FM stations.
At its February Open Meeting, the commission issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking whose goal is to streamline the rules and procedures for processing and licensing competing applications for new NCE and LPFM stations.
As it stands now, mutually exclusive (MX) applications for new NCE and LPFM stations — those that are in conflict and cannot simultaneously be granted — are currently resolved with a procedure that includes a point system for selecting among MX applications. And while the NCE and LPFM procedures have led to the grant of several thousand new station construction permits over the years, the FCC said, some of these regulations are “unnecessarily complex and have caused problems for applicants seeking in good faith to comply with them,” the commission said in its announcement.
The NPRM will hopefully clarify, simplify and improve both the selection and licensing procedures and therefore expedite the initiation of new services to the public.
• Improve the NCE tie-breaker process and reduce the need for mandatory time-sharing;
• Clarify aspects of the “holding period” rule by which NCE permittees must maintain the characteristics for which they received comparative preferences and points;
• Reclassify as “minor” gradual changes in governing boards with respect to nonstock and membership LPFM and NCE applicants;
• Eliminate the current requirement that NCE applicants amend their governing documents to pledge that localism/diversity be maintained in order to receive points as “established local applicants” and for “diversity of ownership;”
• Extend the LPFM construction period from 18-months to a full three years;
• Allow the assignment and transfer of LPFM construction permits after an 18-month holding period and eliminate the three-year holding period on assigning LPFM licenses.
While these rules have enabled the launch of thousands of new radio stations, some of the rules are “needlessly complex and can trip up well-intentioned but inexperienced applicants seeking to bring new radio service to their communities,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
“Essentially, we’re aiming to provide greater clarity to broadcast applicants, and thus make the process easier for them, deliver more new services to the listening public, and reduce appeals of our comparative licensing decisions,” he said.
New Commissioner Geoffrey Starks added that the NPRM should offer improvements to the procedures used to get and keep LPFM radio stations and NCE stations on the air.
“I’ve long … been intrigued by the hyperlocal service and opportunities for new entrants that LPFM stations provide across the country,” he said. “I am generally in favor of designing processes that allow these licensees to spend the majority of their time on programming, rather than paperwork.”
Comments on the issue can be submitted through the commission’s ECFS database using Media Bureau Docket Number 19-3. It is formally known as the tongue-twisting “Reexamination of the Comparative Standards and Procedures for Licensing Noncommercial Educational Broadcast and Low Power FM Stations.”