FCC Issues Rulings on Low Power FM and Translators

March 21, 2012

Washington - Mar 21, 2012 - The Federal Communications Commission has issued two actions relating to the ongoing low-power FM and translator issues.

In its Fifth Report and Order, Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Fourth order on reconsideration (MM Docket No. 99-25), the FCC took the following actions:

In the Fifth Report and Order, the FCC modifies its rules to implement certain provisions of the Local Community Radio Act of 2010 (LCRA), which unambiguously require the Commission to eliminate its third-adjacent channel spacing requirements and to maintain the spacing requirements currently in place to protect radio reading services.

In the Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making, the FCC seeks comment on proposals to amend its rules to implement the remaining provisions of LCRA and to promote a more sustainable community radio service. These changes are intended to advance the LCRA's core goals of localism and diversity while preserving the technical integrity of all of the FM services. In addition, the agency seeks comment on proposals to reduce the potential for licensing abuses.

Lastly, in the Fourth Order on Reconsideration, the FCC dismisses in part and denies in part a petition for reconsideration of the Third Report and Order in this docket, which the Commission released in 2007, and terminates the Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that accompanied that order.

In its Fourth Report and Order and Third Order on Reconsideration (MM Docket No. 99-25; MB Docket No. 07-172; RM-11338), the FCC took the following actions:

On July 12, 2011, the Commission released a Third Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making seeking comment on the impact of the enactment of the Local Community Radio Act of 2010 (LCRA) on the procedures previously adopted to process the approximately 6,500 applications that remain pending from the 2003 FM translator window. There, the Commission tentatively concluded that the previously adopted translator licensing procedures, which would limit each applicant to ten pending applications, would be inconsistent with the LCRA's goals. It proposed to modify those procedures and instead adopt a market-specific translator application dismissal process, dismissing pending translator applications in identified spectrum-limited markets in order to preserve adequate low power FM (LPFM) licensing opportunities. It also sought comment on whether, based on the enactment of the LCRA, the Commission should modify its rules permitting only those translator stations authorized on or prior to May 1, 2009, to rebroadcast the signals of AM stations.

In this Fourth Report and Order, the FCC adopts the market-specific translator application processing and dismissal policies proposed in the Third Further Notice, incorporating certain modifications proposed by commenters. These policies are designed to effectuate the licensing directives set forth at Section 5 of the LCRA while also taking into account the constraints of limited spectrum and technical licensing requirements. The FCC bases these procedures on its extensive spectrum availability studies set forth in Appendices A and B, which establish that limited LPFM licensing opportunities remain in many markets.

The FCC has determined, based on these studies, that the next LPFM window presents a "critical, and indeed possibly a last, opportunity to nurture and promote a community radio service that can respond to unmet listener needs and underserved communities in many urban areas." As explained in the ruling, the FCC finds it necessary to dismiss significant numbers of translator applications in spectrum-limited markets to fulfill that opportunity. Nevertheless, these procedures are also designed to facilitate to the maximum extent possible the grant of the pending translator applications in all markets - whether spectrum is limited or abundant.

In adopting these procedures, the FCC notes that neither the Commission nor any commenter has identified a fundamentally different approach that would both satisfy Section 5's mandate and permit the rapid and efficient licensing of both LPFM and translator stations. With regard to the 6,500 applications that remain pending from the 2003 FM translator window, the FCC also adopts a national cap of 50 applications and a market-based cap of one application per applicant per market for the 156 markets identified in Appendix A to minimize the potential for speculative licensing conduct.

Finally, the FCC modifies the May 1, 2009, date restriction to allow pending FM translator applications that are granted to be used as cross-service translators.

In the Third Order on Reconsideration, the FCC dismisses petitions for reconsideration of the Third Report and Order as they relate to the now-abandoned ten-application cap processing policy.

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