New FM class may reduce opportunities for new translators and LPFM stations

WASHINGTON — In a Feb. 6 speech at the MMTC Broadband and Social Justice Summit, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai indicated that a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to adopt a new Class C4 FM station had been drafted and was circulating at the FCC for consideration. This new class would allow the increase in power of some Class A stations that meet new spacing requirements.

A Class C4 station would fit between Class A FM stations (limited to 6 kW ERP at 100 m antenna height above average terrain) and a Class C3 (25 kW at 100 m). The Class C4 station would be authorized with a power of up to 12 kW ERP. (We previously covered the topic in November 2016.)

“While some Class A stations are certainly in favor of getting more power to increase coverage and increase building penetration in area that they already cover, there are some who are more leery about the proposal,” writes David Oxenford, in broadcastlawblog.com. “One of the biggest issues is simply the congestion of the FM band. The more stations that are shoehorned into the FM band, the more interference that is created. Many FM stations enjoy listenership beyond the coverage that is predicted by the FM spacing tables. Increasing power of existing Class A stations might well limit those areas of service enjoyed by some stations, and might also limit the ability of existing stations to upgrade to higher classes with more meaningful coverage increases,” he writes.

In addition, this new class may reduce opportunities for new translators and LPFM stations. Upgrades by Class A stations to Class C4 could cause interference to the existing translators and LPFMs, perhaps requiring these secondary stations to have to change frequency (assuming other frequencies are available in their market). Between the first time then-commissioner Pai advanced the idea in the fall of 2016, and now, use of translators has only increased, particularly for rebroadcast AM stations.

“Obviously, any consideration of this proposal would have to look at the differences in the use of translators that have occurred since it was first advanced,” according to Oxenford. 

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