Pai Pushes for New FM Class C4

Idea has been bubbling at commission; he asks for NPRM now
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Text has been updated to include a link to the original Wesolowski petition and comments.

Commissioner Ajit Pai says the FCC should get more serious about exploring the idea of creating a new FM allocation called Class C4.

Speaking to an audience at the Radio Show here in Nashville, Pai noted that the commission took comments more than two years ago on this idea and received “generally positive” feedback, especially from FM stations in rural areas and small towns. Backers have said the move could allow hundreds of Class A FM stations to raise power, while some observers have worried about the impact on the FM band's dramatically expanded translator ecosystem.

“I believe the idea of Class C4 FM stations is worth considering. I therefore support the commission taking the next step in the administrative process and issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” he said.

“An NPRM would allow us to ask the right questions, explore the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal, and receive the views of all stakeholders. Then, we would be in a much better position to determine whether to implement this idea.”

Pai has used this fall Radio Show conference before as a platform to push policy changes, notably the AM revitalization process that is ongoing at the commission. He is widely considered a prime mover of that initiative and was very warmly received here in the session room as a friend to the U.S. radio business, in part for his work in AM.

“But we shouldn’t neglect the FM band, where the substantial majority of terrestrial radio listening takes place,” Pai told the audience. “If there are ways the FCC can modernize or update our regulations to help improve the quality of FM service, we should be open to them.”

Class C4 FMs would have more power than Class As but less than Class C3. “Specifically, Class C4 FM stations would be allowed a maximum effective radiated power level of 12,000 watts from a reference antenna height above average terrain of 100 meters,” he said.

“Under this proposal, it’s likely that hundreds of Class A FM stations could upgrade to Class C4 FM stations. That means they could broadcast with increased power and provide service to more Americans so long as they didn’t impact the existing service contours of other stations.” Broadcaster Matthew Wesolowski, CEO of SSR Communications and WYAB(FM), submitted such a petition in 2013 and he has estimated that 800 stations might benefit from this change.

Pai noted that the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council has supported the idea, and cited the example of an FM broadcaster in Ville Platte, La., who said that proposal would mean his station’s Cajun French and local music programming “would reach a larger area of South Central Louisiana.”

These has been opposition expressed in the past to such an idea. Broadcast attorney John Garziglia has said that it could lead to displacement of hundreds of translators and repeated that concern this afternoon.

Reached for reaction on the Pai speech, Wesolowski described himself as ecstatic about the opportunity to present the RM-11727 FM Class C4 / 73.215 case. “I am also incredibly grateful to Commissioner Pai and Commissioner Clyburn, who were both willing to listen to the proposal and helped push it forward back in 2014, as well as their respective staffs. Full implementation of the Class C4/73.215 plan would be a boon to the entire industry, as hundreds of stations would be able to improve their service areas.”

On a related matter, Pai updated the numbers in the windows for AM translators. He said that in the first window, the FCC had received 671 applications, and as of last week, had granted 624. So far in the second window, it has received 268 applications and granted 200. “In sum, that’s 939 applications received and 824 applications granted.”

The FCC plans to more windows in which AMs can apply for new FM translators. “While the commission has not yet specified when that will take place, I will press for those windows to open in 2017.”

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