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Copps Sounds Note of Caution in NCE Case

But decision means some NCE applicants will be able to switch to apply for a commercial station.

Commissioner Michael Copps said he still has concerns about noncom educational stations abandoning “their proud heritage” by becoming less distinguishable from their commercial counterparts.

He issued the statement after an FCC decision this week that lets a group of long-pending NCE applicants avoid dismissal by amending applications to specify commercial operation. He concurred in the decision but expressed cautions.

The Media Bureau soon will announce a window during which NCE applicants in 19 or so “mixed groups” will be given a chance to amend their applications “for the sole purpose of applying for a commercial station.” They would then participate in an auction. The FCC did not identify the MX groups. Law firm Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth analyzes the meaning of the decision here. Read the commission ruling here.

Copps has expressed concern about “further blurring of the line between commercial and NCE services —including the ease with which our rules permit stations to flip back-and-forth between commercial service and NCE service and the possibility that some NCE stations may seek to raise auction funds in a manner that will detract from and endanger the integrity of NCE broadcasting.”

However, in this case he said the decision was “consistent with our prior decisions. And yet my concerns remain” regarding the issues raised by noncommercial educational entities applying for non-reserved spectrum. The Democratic commissioner reiterated his “hope that NCE stations do not abandon their proud heritage and long-term survivability by becoming less and less distinguishable from their commercial counterparts.”