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Nonprofit Asks FCC to Address Geographic Interference Issue

Minn-Iowa asks for relief

A nonprofit broadcaster in the Midwest wants the Federal Communications Commission to take certain steps to address FM translator interference.

Minn-Iowa Christian Broadcasting asked the commission to consider limiting the geographic area in which an FM translator input signal is protected from interference from other FM translators. Currently, the rules state that an FM translator will not be permitted to continue to operate if it causes any actual interference to the reception of the input signal of another FM translator. Minn-Iowa is asking that the FCC to consider changing the rule so that licensees of FM translators only be permitted to claim protection from interference to their input signal within a certain radius, such as a 50 to 60 dBu contour.

This case plays out in the context of broader discussions in the industry about FM interference and protections (or lack of them) for translators.

Minn-Iowa began broadcasting on translator K253CH in September 2016, but heard complaints soon after from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul (UNSP) that its translator was causing interference to UNSP’s primary input signal, which is KTIS(FM) in Minneapolis, for translator K299AL in Albert Lea, Minn.

After a series of field tests to determine if there was interference, Minn-Iowa said, any interference from K299AL was being caused by temporary, atmospheric conditions that are common with the summer heat and humidity in the area. The broadcaster moved to voluntarily reduce its ERP from 250 watts down to 30 watts.

“It is our sense that the interference problem is not due to the previous or current operating parameters of our Hayfield, Minn., translator K253CH,” the group wrote in its filing. “Rather, the minor temporary and sporadic interruption of the primary input to K299AL is due to the atmospheric ducting conditions that further disrupts and exacerbates an anemic KTIS Channel 253 input signal already significantly stressed by intervening terrain and distance issues.”

The core of the problem, Minn-Iowa said, is that UNSP is feeding its translator with a signal that is 95 miles away. The broadcaster’s translator is broadcasting “a full 30 miles” away on from UNSP’s translator, the group said. The translator is also operating on Channel 253.

“Accordingly, it does not seem likely that our Hayfield, Minn., translator broadcast signal should interfere with the K299AL primary input, particularly in light of our power reductions from our original 250 watts to our current 30 watts ERP,” the group said.

Not only is UNSP’s interference complaint unwarranted, the group said, but by using Channel 253 to feed its entire statewide translator network, UNSP is “effectively denying the use of Channel 253 to any other broadcaster in almost the entire state of Minnesota.”

The group is asking the FCC to consider issues a notice of proposed rulemaking that would seek comments on whether or not to limit the geographic area in which an FM translator signal is protected from interference.

The group is also asking the FCC to consider amending the current rules to allow the primary input for all translators to be delivered by any means, including Internet, satellite, microwave and off-air. “This would allow UNSP to feed its translator via the Internet and allow our translator K253CH to resume its duly authorized service levels,” the group said.