Recent statements by FCC Chairwoman Clyburn and Commissioner Pai have shed light on potential changes to the AM band. They both attended the 2013 Radio Show in Orlando and discussed the need for the FCC to consider changes to the AM Broadcast service with the intention of reducing regulatory burdens and encouraging AM stations to improve service.
Three proposals outlined by Clyburn in her speech indicate that the FCC will consider rules to expand the use of FM translators by AM stations; modify the service coverage requirements to AM stations' community of license; and "ratch down" the "ratchet rule" that was intended to reduce nighttime interference, but instead stymied attempts by AM stations to improve their service. These proposals are said to be part of a notice of proposed rulemaking that had been circulated, but not released, prior to the federal government shutdown.
First, the FCC is said to be eyeing a limited opportunity for AM stations to participate in a filing window for FM translators where such spectrum is available. Presumably, this window would be scheduled after the low-power FM filing window applications have been reviewed, and existing FM translator stations and pending applications have had an opportunity to submit minor change applications to eliminate mutual-exclusivity situations remaining in existence from the 2003 filing window.
In his speech to the Radio Show attendees, Commissioner Pai also referenced his support for requests by AM broadcasters to make larger-scale modifications to FM translators. The so-called Tell City waiver request was filed in November 2012, and sought FCC permission to modify the transmitter site of an FM translator beyond what is specified in the FCC's rules, so long as the FM translator would not preclude LPFM licensing in spectrum limited markets, and the FM translator was used to fill in the service area of an AM station.
Next, the notice will consider changes to the AM rules community of license coverage rules. In addition to interference issues (discussed below), more recent changes to local zoning regulations and environmental processing rules have prevented AM stations from changing their transmitter sites. The FCC is considering the possibility of reducing the required level of service by an AM station to its community of license to permit such moves. Other possible changes would be to permit nighttime stations to utilize directional arrays to eliminate interference when making such changes.
Third, perhaps the most significant proposed change is the ratcheting down of the ratchet rule. The ratchet rule was adopted in 1991 as a means to reduce interference in the AM band. As specified in the rules, when an AM licensee voluntarily proposed to modify its facilities, it was also required to reduce its contribution to nighttime interference levels. However, as pointed out in a 2009 Petition for Rulemaking, the ratchet rule actively discouraged AM licensees from proposing to make service improvements. As a result, the rule incentivized AM licensees to maintain their current facilities, and not take advantage of opportunities to improve their coverage areas, lest they be forced to lose nighttime service.
Finally, the FCC will also consider two other changes, streamlining authorization to use MDCL control technologies, and reducing the required minimum effective field strength values for AM stations by approximately 25 percent, which would permit the use of shorter AM antennas.
As noted above, the proposed rules were slated to be released immediately after the Radio Show. However, with the federal government shutdown as of Oct. 1, it is unknown when the actual text of the rules will be released. Upon release, interested parties can file comments.
License Renewal Pre/Post-Filing: Stations in Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington continue running License Renewal Post-Filing Announcements, on Oct. 16, and Nov.1 and 16. Stations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont continue running License Renewal Pre-Filing Announcements on Oct. 16, and Nov. 1 and 16.
Quarterly Issues/Programs List: Stations place in their public file by Oct. 10, 2013, covering the period from July 1, 2013, through Sept. 30, 2013.
Biennial Ownership Reports: Commercial radio and television stations file Biennial Ownership Reports Dec. 2.
Petro is of counsel at Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.