One of the interesting questions about the recent expansion of the LPFM service is how the commission will handle objections from licensed full-power FM stations when the FCC grants second-adjacent-channel spacing waivers to low-power stations in order to fit more on the dial.
Here is one such case. The Federal Communications Commission has ruled against a full-power FM in Birmingham, Ala., that raised repeated concerns about interference from three planned LPFMs. The case also is interesting because of the strategy and arguments the station chose to pursue.
The full-power is WDJC(FM), licensed to Kimtron Inc., part of Crawford Broadcasting. The new LPFMs were granted earlier to Calvary of Birmingham, The Church in Birmingham Corp. and Love Commandment Ministries. Kimtron, worried about interference, petitioned to deny those LPFMs but the Media Bureau said no (though it dismissed a fourth on procedural grounds). Kimtron appealed the ruling but the bureau affirmed the decision; then Kimtron asked the commission to review that finding and the now FCC has upheld it.
The laundry list of grievances was lengthy and the discussion technical and legalistic in its language. But Kimtron laid out several arguments that are of interest to those watching how the commission handles these waiver cases.
First, it said the bureau was wrong to conclude that protection of a full-power station’s digital signal is ensured by compliance with certain analog interference protection obligations; it also felt the FCC should have treated the LPFM facilities as “spectrally first adjacent” to WDJC rather than second-adjacent. It succeeded with neither.
Second, Kimtron tried an argument that interference from the LPFMs would hurt its own compliance with FCC digital radio rules.
Those rules require that the HD Radio station’s digital stream “must be at least comparable in sound quality” to its analog programming. But when Kimtron pointed this out, the commission replied, “We take this opportunity to clarify that the ‘comparable quality’ requirement is not directed at a possible reduction in the audio quality of a station’s digital signal due to interference. Rather, it is designed to ensure that a station’s own choices related to digital audio broadcasting, e.g., its bandwidth allocated to replicate its analog programming service, do not lead to a deterioration in the quality of service provided to the public.”
So it rejected that argument. But the commission said that if WDJC does suffer interference to either its analog or digital signals, it can seek relief. Under LPFM rules, if the FCC gets a bona fide complaint of interference from an LPFM operating under a second-adjacent waiver, the LPFM must suspend operations until it eliminates the interference or shows that it wasn’t the cause. And in what might be an indication of things to come in cases like this, the FCC added in a footnote: “Kimtron acknowledged this procedure and expressed its intention to ‘be at utmost vigilance for impermissible LPFM interference to WDJC(FM) and bring every instance to the commission’s attention promptly as provided for in the commission’s rules.’”
Third, in another tack, Kimtron argued that the bureau had ignored an important issue concerning the accuracy of Kimtron’s engineering analysis regarding interference to WDJC’s digital operation. But the FCC rejected that saying it was not persuaded because Kimtron used the first-adjacent channel desired/undesired signal strength ratio rather than the second-adjacent channel ratio.
Kimtron had one other legal card to play. It noted that when an LPFM asks for a second-adjacent waiver, this request goes in a public notice accepting the application for filing; Kimtron argued that this mundane requirement “signifies the unique nature of an LPFM channel spacing waiver, the greater potential for interference, and the commission’s concern and desire that the public must be made aware of such potential to provide a timely opportunity to raise concerns.” If an analog protection standard adequately resolves interference protection scenarios for all purposes, it asked, why would the FCC require special public notices announcing the waiver or establish a case-by-case waiver standard?
But the commission tersely rejected this argument, basically saying that this case wasn’t the place to settle that question.