How should the FCC handle its big backlog of translator applications now that the law easing restrictions on LPFMs is in place?
Low-power FM supporters Don Schellhardt and Nickolaus Leggett have weighed in.
They are leaders of the Amherst Alliance, which they describe as an independent LPFM advocacy group that is “more politically moderate than Prometheus.” Schellhardt is an attorney and president of Amherst. Leggett is a political scientist and inventor. Both are hams and have been active in FCC proceedings regarding EMP shielding, low-power AM and HOA regulations that affect amateur radio.
The men, who met at Wesleyan University 43 years ago, submitted a petition in 1997 that helped lead to the docket creating LPFMs. Now they have filed comments to the FCC on whether pending translator applications from Auction No. 83 — “known colloquially as ‘The Great Translator Invasion’” — should be processed before, after or at the same time as new LPFM applications.
They wrote that they “firmly dispute any legal theory which would require the FCC to process the Auction #83 applications before new LPFM applications can even be considered.” They say the commission would violate the intent of the new Local Community Radio Act if it were to consider translator apps first.
Further, “While a case can be made for processing new LPFM applications first, we believe that simultaneous consideration of Auction #83 applications and new LPFM applications would be the decision most consistent with the letter and the spirit of the LCRA. As the most balanced course of action, and the one least vulnerable to a litigation challenge from any party, this would also be the most expeditious route to the resolution of current controversies.”
Schellhardt and Leggett realize that such a “super window” would put administrative burdens on the FCC but think this is the best approach. The FCC could consider applications in stages, beginning with rural areas, “where, in general, the incidence of mutually exclusive applications is lowest and the allocation of licenses is therefore simplest.” They said the FCC has used such an approach with low-power TV licenses.
“The FCC should save the most complex set of decisions for the end of the process, beginning simultaneous consideration of applications in truly rural areas, then moving to ‘micropolitan’ areas and concluding in metropolitan areas.”
They also repeated an Amherst Alliance suggestion that LPFMs in truly rural areas should be allowed higher power at 250 watts. And they reminded the FCC that the commission originally said it would consider 10 watt as well as 100 watt LPFMs. “Because some areas with crowded spectrum can only accommodate LP10 stations, it is crucially important for the commission to keep its long-deferred promise.”
Schellhardt and Leggett further suggested that the commission could “thin out” translator applications before the “super window” of simultaneous consideration began. “Certainly those Auction #83 applications which are clearly intended for speculative use can be culled from ‘the thundering herd’ of ‘Great Translator Invasion’ applications. So can those applications which are clearly defective in other ways.” They also support caps on the number of translator applications one entity can file.
Schellhardt and Leggett criticized Prometheus Radio Project and Educational Media Foundation for not including Amherst in discussions about LPFM vs. translator priority. And they said that another proposal, put forth by 21 commercial radio broadcasters, falls short of “pursuing the robust balance of choices that Congress intended local communities to have.”
Suggestions by REC Networks and Prometheus/EMF, they said, “come somewhat closer to honoring the intent of Congress” than the one from the commercial broadcasters; but they conclude that “simultaneous, case-by-case consideration of pending Auction #83 applications and new LPFM applications would be the single best way to carry out the congressional desire for each community to have a choice of stations, based on its own individual needs. … We urge the commission to let pending translator applicants and new LPFM applicants compete for the support of localities. Head on. Case-by-case. Community-by-community. Mano a mano.”
“EMF, Prometheus on Their Understanding” (Aug. 2010)
“FM Translator Settlement, Auction Proposed by 21 Broadcasters” (Oct. 2010)