The New Jersey Broadcasters Association is renewing its concern about how broadcasters in the Garden State might be harmed by new complaint rules being proposed by the Federal Communications Commission.
It was nearly a year ago that the commission proposed new steps to streamline the complaint process around FM translator interference issues. The commission just recently released a new draft Report and Order that clarifies exactly how it plans to streamline the process of resolving conflicts.
The NJBA syas that while it appreciates the dilemma the commission faces in dealing with mounting interference complaints, it’s important not to forget that FM translator facilities are “by definition a secondary service.”
“The commission has always interpreted this to mean that an FM translator is not allowed to create any interference to a full-service station, and we feel that this is exactly the way that things should remain,” said Paul S. Rotella, president and CEO of the NJBA.
“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,” he said. “It would also cause confusion in the marketplace and … interfere with life-saving AMBER Alerts and our EAS.”
The draft order released by the commission would give translators flexibility to change frequency, establish a minimum number of listener complaints, standardize the complaint process and establish a clearer process for resolving interference complaints.
For the NJBA, however, the biggest concern is any proposal that establishes an unacceptable outer contour limit of 54 dBμ — beyond which such listener complaints of interference caused by FM translator stations would not be actionable.
The association said that applying such a 54 dBμ contour limit, as was originally proposed in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, would fundamentally change the existing balance of equities between translators and other full-service broadcast stations.
“Translators are a secondary service and essentially are supposed to be used as a repeater service to remedy challenging geographical limitations or to supplement AM stations as part of the AM Revitalization program,” Rotella said. “To now afford translator operators greater protections and in turn limit the protections that full-service broadcasters can expect, flies in direct contrast to how each party understood the underlying protections they could expect when the respective licenses were granted to each party.”
The association pointed to an engineering study submitted by a group of broadcasters opposed to the 54 dBμ contour (which included Beasley Media Group, Cox Media Group and iHeart Communications, among others). That study found that on average, 29.8% of at-home listeners in each of those metro groups reside outside of those stations’ 54 dBμ contour.
The revised draft order took those comments into consideration. The draft report now proposes establishing an outer contour limit of 45 dBμ for any complaining station. Any interference complaints within this contour will be considered actionable, the draft order states.
The NJBA does support a number of other proposals offered by various translator operations, such as allowing FM translators to change channels to an available frequency using a minor modification application, requiring a minimum number of listener complaints to be submitted with any FM translator interference claim, and standardizing the information that must be included within such a listener complaint.
But the NJBA said it is strongly opposed to any proposal that requires complainants to become more involved in the resolution process for a complaint to be verified.
“Just because people don’t want to join an exacerbated fight doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be protected,” Rotella said. With the plethora of programming sources available, he said, it’s highlight unlikely that a listeners will stop to lodge an interference complaint — especially if such complaints become subject to greater scrutiny and complainant willingness to participate in the resolution process, he said.
The commission will consider current draft Report and Order (which is part of Media Bureau Docket 18-119) at the upcoming May 9 Open Meeting.