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FCC Rejects a Class C4 “Test Case”

Mississippi FM station won’t be able to raise power

A Mississippi station that wanted to raise power — and be a kind of test case for a proposed new FM class — won’t get that chance.

The Federal Communications Commission has turned down an application by Commander Communications Corp. for a rule waiver to upgrade its Class A station in Sharon, Miss.

Commander wanted to operate WRTM using parameters that another company, SSR Communications, has been urging the FCC to allow by creating Class C4, an intermediate FM class between existing Classes A and C3. The FCC has an open notice of inquiry on that question.

[Related: “C4 FM Proposal Stalls at FCC”]

WRTM asked to increase its effective radiated power from 4.6 kW to 9.2 kW to reach a larger audience. In addition to providing several technical arguments, Commander said approval of its application would provide the FCC with useful information about potential Class C4 facilities.

SSR Communications supported the idea as a kind of proof of concept of its idea.

But Commander needed a rule waiver because WRTM’s application didn’t satisfy minimum distance separation requirements from WNSL in Laurel, Miss. That station is owned by iHeartMedia, which opposed the request.

WRTM is a short-spaced station under rule section 73.215, which deals with contour protections for short-spaced assignments. WNSL is a fully spaced station under 73.207, which is about minimum distance separations between stations.

These rules mean that when WRTM calculates protected and interfering contour overlap, it must protect WNSL as though the latter were operating at the hypothetical maximum ERP and height above average terrain for its class rather than its actual predicted contours.

iHeart argued that such the fundamental questions at issue here should be handled through rulemaking, not through a waiver or as an interim measure.

It said that an “involuntary section 73.215 designation” is a “highly controversial aspect” of the Class C4 proposal that would preclude WNSL from later increasing power to its class maximum and that could limit its options to relocate that station. And further, if a waiver was in fact granted, iHeart said, the reduction in interference protection would essentially constitute an unsought license modification to its station.

Albert Shuldiner, chief of the Audio Division of the FCC Media Bureau, now has ruled against Commander, saying the request didn’t provide compelling reasons to justify a waiver.

Simply wanting to reach more potential listeners isn’t a sufficient reason for a waiver, he wrote.

Also, the FCC won’t consider a waiver based on the theory that a station cannot construct, or is unlikely to construct, maximum class facilities. Maximum class protection, he wrote, is not a waste of spectrum. “Rather, it serves the public interest by preserving interference-free service while providing flexibility for future site relocations and service improvements.”

Shuldiner’s ruling emphasized that designation under section 73.215 is voluntary. “We will not force WNSL to accept diminished protection based on Commander’s assessment of whether WNSL (or the tower owner) could or should have capitalized on previous opportunities to upgrade.”

He didn’t accept other arguments made by Commander. “Many stations seeking a similar upgrade also could claim they would not cause harm by avoiding displacing secondary service stations, changing their communities of license, causing predicted contour overlap or affecting television spectrum repacking,” he wrote.

Finally, he agreed with iHeart that creating a new class of FM station or reducing protections for stations operating below class maximums “should be the result of careful consideration of a complete rulemaking record, not implemented piecemeal through the waiver process or to allow for a ‘proof of concept’ of the Class C4 proposal.”