The Federal Communications Commission denied an application for review that was filed in a Philadelphia timeshare case known as LPFM MX Group 304 after one of the applicants appealed, saying that several applicants within the group improperly colluded together to aggregate points.
This case also marks the first time that the so-called “rocket docket” review process was put to work. This new procedure was put in place at the commission in an effort to streamline the AFR process.
On Aug. 17, the nonprofit Nueva Esperanza sought commission review of an earlier Media Bureau decision that affirmed the grant of a group of applicants collectively known as the Germantown applicants (which included G-Town Radio, Germantown United Community Development Corp. and Germantown Life Enrichment Center) as well as South Philadelphia Rainbow Committee Community Center. Collectively these applicants were awarded construction permits for new LPFM stations serving Philadelphia.
These four applicants as well as three others — Nueva Esperanza, the NAACP Social Justice Law Project and Historic Germantown Preserved — were tentatively selected to receive a construction permit on a timeshare basis and were thus labeled LPFM MX Group 304.
But the first four applicants mentioned above joined forces to file a timeshare agreement in which they aggregated their comparative points, which ended up breaking the seven-way tie in their favor.
Nueva Esperanza appealed and asked the commission to overturn this decision as well as overturn the subsequent dismissal of applications filed by Nueva, NAACP and Historic Germantown, which had also applied for construction permits for a new LPFM station in Philadelphia.
In its AFR, Nueva said that the timesharing applicants should be prohibited from being able to aggregate their comparative points at the time that they filed their applications. Nueva argued that they should have been required to wait until after the commission issued a formal notice that declared those applicants tied under the commission’s LPFM point system. To lend weight to its argument, Neuva pointed to a blog entry on the commission’s website in support of this argument.
But the commission upheld the earlier Media Bureau ruling and denied the AFR, saying that Nueva misinterpreted the LPFM blog post, and that neither FCC rules nor the blog post prevented the timesharing applicants from agreeing to aggregate their points prior to filing their applications.
“What happened in MX 304 was an unfortunate circumstance of when old policy and modern methods of communications come together,” said Michi Bradley, founder of REC Networks, an LPFM advocate organization. “Staff and the full commission were correct in regarding those comments made in the blog post as unofficial nonbinding remarks as they were not made an in order or a published letter.”
“The commission really needs to look at improved methods of handling MX applications to assure a more efficient use of spectrum over administrative convenience,” she said.
This case, the first use of the so-called rocket docket review process, earned praise from Commissioner Ajit Pai.
“With this new tool, the commission in appropriate cases can rule on AFRs in approximately three-and-a-half months — far quicker than the norm,” Pai said when the order was released on Dec. 1. “This item was the test run of the rocket docket and is an excellent example of how the process can work. In the future, I hope that we will make greater use of the AFR rocket docket procedure so the commission’s business is done more efficiently and expeditiously.”