Improve the translator complaint process
Based on two petitions for rulemaking filed by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Aztec Capital Partners, the licensee of a translator in New Jersey and the massive growth and concentration of FM translators that originally started with the Great Translator Invasion of 2003 and then increased by the various efforts in 2016 to 2018 to support AM Revitalization, the FCC has opened this proceeding to address the issue of a large number of interference complaints the FCC has received from these new translators and how some form of a balance can be found between the incumbent broadcasters and the new secondary translators.
In this proceeding, the FCC is seeking comments on the following:
- Allowing FM translators to change to any channel to resolve interference as a minor modification.
- Requiring a minimum number of listener complaints in order to have a valid interference claim.
- Standardizing the information that must be in the interference complaint.
- Streamlining and expediting the interference complaint procedure.
- Establishing an outer contour limit for the affected station beyond which listener complaints would not be considered actionable.
- Modifying the scope of interference complaints that can be filed by affected stations at the application stage.
REC supports some aspects of this proposal while others could be better written.
Allowing FM translators to change to any channel to resolve interference as a minor modification
Currently, a translator may only change to a channel that is a minor change relationship. This means only 1, 2, 3, 53 or 54 channels (0.2, 0.4, 0.6, 10.6 or 10.8 MHz) above or below. Non-commercial translators may only switch between commercial (92.1~107.9) and non-commercial (88.1~91.9) channels if their original construction permit is still unbuilt. Upon a triggering application by a full-service FM station that would result in the translator's displacement, the translator can move to any channel (as long as they stay within the reserved or non-reserved bands).
Like with translators, LPFM stations can change to a channel that is a minor change relationship. Unlike translators, LPFM stations can change between commercial and reserved non-commercial channels even if the LPFM station is built. In addition, an LPFM station can move to any channel upon a showing of reduced interference. A reduced interference showing in LPFM is a demonstration either through contours or through Longley/Rice propagation studies that the new channel will result in less interference either to or from the LPFM station requesting the change.
Under the proposed rule, FM translators would be permitted to change to any channel (with the restriction going between commercial and non-commercial channels remaining) upon a showing of interference to or from any other broadcast station.
REC does support the ability for FM translators to change to any channel in the band as this would bring FM translators in line LPFM where it comes to these kind of changes. We do feel though that FM translators should be required to show the same burden as LPFM to demonstrate that the alternate channel does receive or produce less interference.
Requiring a minimum number of listener complaints in order to have a valid interference claim
Current rules and policies do not require a minimum number of listeners (technically, the current process is just one listener). The FCC is proposing that in order for the interference process to be triggered, there must be a minimum of six bona-fide listener complaints.
REC is interested in hearing from the LPFM constituency regarding the requirement of 6 complaints, especially in light of the outer limit being proposed below.
Standardizing the information that must be in the interference complaint
The FCC is proposing to strengthen the bona-fide listener complaint process to require listener complaints to be signed and include:
- The listener's full name and contact information.
- A clear, concise and accurate description of the location where the interference is alleged to occur.
- A statement that the complainant listens to the desired station at least twice a month (to demonstrate that they are a regular listener).
- A statement that the listener does not have any legal, financial or familial affiliation to the desired station.
Complaints from impacted stations would require maps showing listener locations in relation to relevant station contours.
REC agrees that listener statements must in a standardized format and include these basic items in order to move forward as a valid complaint.
Streamlining and expediting the interference complaint procedure
Under the current rules, if a translator accused of interference wants to address the issue, they can compel your listeners to cooperate with them to the point providing access to their home or property and the accepting new equipment and if the listener refuses to cooperate, the translator can be absolved of that interference complaint. The FCC proposes to take the end-user listener completely out of the resolution process and require a translator permittee/licensee to submit a technical showing where using accepted methodologies (contours, undesired/desired ratio, on-off tests, etc.) have demonstrated that the interference has been eliminated.
REC has recently heard of cases where complaining listeners are being threatened with litigation by translators allegedly causing interference. REC supports a position that goes even further that allows incumbent stations to be permitted to redact listener name, exact address and contact information but still make available to Commission staff with limited information such as location information made available to the interfering translator and a high level view (overall map) made available to the general public. While this method may have worked better in the days before electronic filing, there are some serious privacy implications by making listener data public. The listener should not be made the victim and should be afforded privacy and whistleblower rights when reporting interference.
Establishing an outer contour limit for the affected station beyond which listener complaints would not be considered actionable
A famous saying here at REC is "contours can be deceiving". In fact, contours are used mainly for frequency allocation and based on an estimated field strength that 50% of all receivers can hear 50% of the time. It is a formula based on a graph with intersecting effective radiated power, height above average terrain and distance to determine estimated field strength at a particular location. Here in the USA, the FCC considers the service area of most FM facilities to be 60 dBu with some facilities being at 57 or 54 dBu. In the rest of the world, 54 dBu is the norm for FM facilities.
The FCC is proposing an "outer limit" for valid interference complaints and the initial number they are proposing is 54 dBu. This would mean that the incumbent FM station could only submit listener complaints from listeners within their station's 54 dBu contour. Any complaints outside of their 54 dBu contour would not be valid complaints.
For many LPFM stations, especially those in flat areas of the country, the 54 dBu contour extends to 5 miles from the transmitter site and eliminate the ability to claim interference at the application level by stating listeners are inside the 60 dBu of the proposed translator. This means that an LPFM station would only be able to claim interference for about 1.5 miles from outside of their service contour. In comparison, a Class A station can claim additonal protection at over 6 miles and a Class C to about 10 extra miles. REC does support an outer limit however 54 dBu is far too close as in most parts of the world, 54 dBu is considered a standard field strength for a reliable stereo FM broadcast station.
Currently with the current distance spacing rules and the 20 km buffer zone, LPFM stations are "protecting" full service out to 49 to 52 dBu service contour based on class (48 dBu for Class B1 and 46 dBu for Class B). There needs to be more flexibility for incumbent stations here or we need to approach translator protections to incumbent stations a little different (perhaps a buffer zone for FM translators?).
Modifying the scope of interference complaints that can be filed by affected stations at the application stage
Finally, the FCC proposes to make some "housekeeping" changes to §74.1203 and §74.1204 by removing service specific language where it comes to secondary services being protected under these rules and replacing it with "any full service stations and previously authorized secondary service stations."
REC brought this up in MB Docket 17-105 as it has created confusion and was used as a defense in order to attempt to invalidate interference claims made by LPFM stations. The new proposed language is more acceptable.