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FCC Sets the Date for Translator Auction Window for AMs

Class C and D AMs get first crack in July

The FCC has announced the first auction filing window for AM stations seeking new FM translators.

This is the next step in the commission’s ongoing AM “revitalization” initiative. Broadcasters have been waiting to learn the timetable. Chairman Ajit Pai had indicated earlier that the schedule was pending.

“Starting on July 26, 2017, we will open an auction filing window to allow the licensees of Class C and D AM stations — those having the least power and/or the most limited (or nonexistent) nighttime service, and which did not participate in either of the 2016 modification windows — to file applications to establish new FM translator stations to re-transmit their signals on a full time basis,” it announced.

After those applicants have had an opportunity to resolve mutual exclusivities through settlements or technical amendments, “we will announce the dates of the second new FM translator auction filing window, which will be open to any AM station licensee that did not participate in either of the 2016 translator modification windows or the first new FM translator auction filing window. This filing window also will be followed by a settlement/technical resolution period.”

The commission will use competitive bidding to resolve remaining mutually exclusive application groups from these windows.

Last year, you’ll recall, the FCC opened two translator modification filing windows, allowing AMs to relocate FM translator stations. Then over the winter it relaxed the rule setting out where such “cross-service” FM translators could be located. It said more than 1,000 AM broadcasters took advantage of these opportunities.

The action was approved by all three seated commissioners: Chairman Pai as well as Commissioners Clyburn and O’Rielly. A public notice will follow soon from the Media Bureau and Wireless Telecommunications Bureau with instructions and more information about application filing and processing procedures.

The upshot is that an already heated and fast-changing FM translator landscape in the United States is likely to become even more so. It’s also likely to be seen as a setback for those who feel that the commission has been too ready to turn over FM spectrum access to existing AM stakeholders at the cost of newer entrants such as LPFMs.

In the announcement, the commission also noted that this translator auction filing window originally was supposed to take place after completion of the Broadcast Incentive Auction as well as some older business, the auction of remaining FM translator applications filed during the 2003 Auction 83 filing window.

But it changed its mind.

“Given the enormous success of the 2016 cross-service FM translator modification windows and the likelihood that the upcoming windows will similarly provide immediate and dramatic coverage relief to additional hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of AM stations,” it wrote in a footnote to today’s announcement, “we have elected to open the first new FM cross-service translator auction filing window before, rather than after, completing non-reserved band FM translator Auction 83.”

Doing so, it said, will provide applicants an opportunity, that Auction 83 applicants already enjoyed “to resolve any mutual exclusivity between themselves, thus expediting the public interest benefits that the operation of the cross-service translators will bring.”

And it said translator applications filed during that earlier window 14 years ago will remain protected from interference from later-filed translator applications, including any from this year’s translator auction filing windows. “We anticipate that the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and the Media Bureau will conduct Auction 83 as expeditiously as practicable, taking into account the new FM cross-service translator auction filing windows.”