In July, the Educational Media Foundation and Prometheus Radio Project submitted a “memorandum of agreement” to the FCC, laying out a proposed resolution of issues raised by the 2003 translator window and about LPFM vs. FM translator priorities in general.
EMF is a station owner and operator of the K-Love and Air 1 networks; Prometheus is an advocate for community low-power FM stations. The agreement was noteworthy in part because the organizations are seen as coming from divergent viewpoints on the translator/LPFM issue.
They noted “the fits and starts that marked the commission’s obvious struggle over how to satisfy both LPFM and FM translator interests, including its conflicted, evolving views regarding whether to give LPFM service priority over translators, and the range of alternatives for handling Auction 83 proposals, some of which were haltingly implemented then put off.”
Here they ask the commission to abandon its 2007 decision capping FM translator applicants from the earlier window at 10. They call for the FCC to hold the applications in abeyance and to open an LPFM filing window, in which LPFMs would have a preference; after which the remaining translator applications would be considered.
The organizations believe the FCC could adopt their proposal without a further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. They also offered several other suggestions, including allowing LPFM stations to operate on 87.5, 87.7 and 87.9 MHz. Excerpts:
First, as to the pending applications for FM translators filed during the 2003 FM translator window, the parties recognize that, for purposes of this agreement, a limit of 10 protected FM translator applications from that window may not serve the interests of either the translator or the LPFM communities.
A limit of 10 protected FM translator applications identified before an LPFM window may result in the preclusion of many new LPFM stations in larger markets through the grants of new FM translator applications, while also resulting in rural populations and other underserved areas not receiving any radio service because FM translator applicants forego protection of these applications when selecting the 10 applications to protect.
Thus, the parties urge the commission to act as follows:
- Keep all of the pending FM translator applications from the 2003 FM translator window on file, but to continue to defer the processing of all of these applications until after the LPFM window described below.
- Open an LPFM window allowing for the filing of applications for new LPFM stations nationwide. Applications filed in this window would receive a preference over applications pending from the 2003 FM translator window.
- Once the applications that have been identified from the LPFM window sufficiently so that the commission can determine which of these applications preclude applications in the 2003 FM translator window, the commission should resume processing of all of the remaining FM translator applications not precluded by an LPFM application. At that point the FCC should open a settlement window for the remaining 2003 applications, and thereafter grant applications that can be granted following the settlement window, and use the established selection process to resolve all of the remaining pending FM translator applications. …
The parties also urge the commission to look at other issues in the future to firmly establish the priorities between LPFM and FM translator stations. Some of the following proposals can be resolved in the context of the existing Docket 99-25 Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, while other proposals may need further notice and comment.
The suggestions are as follows:
- The parties agree that LPFM stations should not be given any priority over existing FM translators and granted construction permits for FM translators. The investments made in FM translators and the existing listening habits of the audience of FM translators should not be disturbed.
- The FCC should recognize that, in future proceedings, LPFM applicants providing a local service should be given a preference over FM translator applicants. The parties urge the commission to adopt an application process that would include the following elements:
A. Regular filing windows for both LPFM stations and FM translators.
B. Unified windows in which both LPFM applications and those for FM translators can be filed, with LPFM applicants being allowed to file using FM translator contour protection standards, but subject to FM translator interference remediation requirements as set forth in Part 74 of the FCC rules.
C. A priority system that would favor stations providing local service over remote FM translators — establishing the priorities between LPFM stations, translators providing fill-in service for AM stations and other FM translators.
D. A limitation on the number of FM translators that could be filed in any window. The FCC could consider a number of options in establishing a limit, which need not be based on a hard and fast nationwide limitation (i.e., no cap of 10 applications nationwide). For example, the FCC could consider a more limited geographically based limit tied to the need for a translator, e.g., a limit on the number of translator applications that can be filed by any applicant within an Arbitron Metro or, for areas outside a Metro, per primary station (e.g., no more than two translators per window per applicant inside a Metro or, outside a Metro, no more than two applications for translators that would be rebroadcasting the same primary station). Other viable options should also be considered; any limit would allow FM translators to serve the needs of broadcasters and listeners in rural as well as more urban areas without flooding the commission’s processing channels. Note that the numbers provided here are for illustration purposes only, and do not necessarily reflect limits to which the parties would agree; but the parties are agreed on the concept of a market-based limit as opposed to a national limit, if tied in with a unified LPFM/translator window as described above.
- Allowing LPFM stations to operate on 87.5, 87.7 and 87.9 on the basis that they do not interfere with existing television, low-power television or FM radio services.
- The exploration of allowing FM translator stations to be converted to LPFM uses (such uses to be subject to all limitations on LPFM operations) if a local group can reach an agreement with a translator licensee for the sale or donation of the translator.
- The parties agree that new LPFM applications, while having a priority over applications for new translators in any subsequent unified window, will not have any priority or other ability to involuntarily preempt existing or authorized FM translators.
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