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FCC Set to Finalize Changes to Radio Technical Rules

Updates coming to commission’s technical provisions in February

FCC, Federal Communications CommissionThe most recent effort by the FCC to ferret out redundant or outdated broadcast radio regulations is expected to culminate at the commission’s next monthly meeting.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel this week released the agency’s February Open Meeting agenda, which includes plans for the commission to finalize a proposal introduced in July 2021 to clean up a series of technical rules.

It’s the continuation of a media modernization initiative that began several years ago under former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. The FCC says the latest changes are expected to “reduce any potential confusion, alleviate unnecessary burdens, and make sure our rules reflect the latest technical requirements.”

The FCC voted unanimously last year adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking identifying seven technical rules that broadcast radio experts say will benefit radio broadcasters and allow them to operate more efficiently. The list of proposals included an update to the noncommercial FM community of license coverage requirements and eliminating the requirement that applicants demonstrate the effect of any FM applicant transmitting antenna on nearby FM or TV broadcast antennas.

The FCC’s proposal also calls for the elimination of the maximum rated power limit rule for AM transmitters, which one veteran broadcast engineer told Radio World previously “no one has paid any attention to for decades.”

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Another longtime FCC watcher described the technical rules update as “safe and sane deregulatory efforts” that constitute a “clearing of the regulatory underbrush.”

The FCC also plans to update the signal strength contour overlap requirements for noncommercial Class D FMs to bring those rules in line with the contour overlap requirements for all other noncommercial FMs. In addition, it proposes modifying the definition of AM fill-in area when an FM translator simulcasts an AM station to create consistency across different rules governing fill-in translator transmitter siting.

The NAB was generally supportive of all but one of the seven proposed changes, according to comments it filed in the FCC proceeding (MB 21-263). NAB wrote it respectfully disagrees with the FCC’s proposal to eliminate the regulatory requirement to consider proximate transmitting facilities. NAB believes eliminating the rule is “tantamount to instructing applicants not to worry about the potential effects of their operation on existing stations.”

NAB continued: “We submit that this requirement provides an important legal tool for defining interference protection rights.”

The group also offered the following caveat to its overall support: “NAB urges the commission to stipulate that any rule changes adopted in this proceeding should not cause any existing stations to be in violation of the commission rules and that any station adversely affected by such rules changes be grandfathered to the extent necessary to avoid being forced to modify their operations.”

The NAB concluded its comments on the FCC’s proposed technical changes by writing it “appreciated the commission’s goal of eliminating or updating unnecessary or outmoded regulations and supported the changes proposed in the NPRM.”

The FCC’s February Open Meeting is scheduled for Feb. 18.