REC issue status report
Now that we are about a month in 2017, I have been answering many questions about AM Revitalization, the next FM translator window, LP-250 and the ongoing inquires about starting a new LPFM station.
As you all may know by now, we do have a new FCC Chairman. Ajit Pai has been serving on the FCC since 2012. While REC opposes his policies on telecom issues (mainly network neutrality), we must recognize that he has championed AM Revitalization and depending on whether you are an LPFM or a small AM station, you may see this differently. Pai has also recently spoken about the proposed Class C4 full-service FM class which would be an upgrade for Class A FM stations.
In response to when there will be a window for FM translators for AM stations, the simple answer is that we still do not know yet. In the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for MB Docket 13-149, the FCC had proposed a rule that would extend the area where an AM station could place a translator. The current rule states that the 60 dBu protected contour of the proposed translator must remain within the 2 millivolt per meter (2 mV/m) daytime contour of the AM station and no further than 25 miles from the AM station if the 2 mV/m is that wide. The proposals on the table would extend the fill-in area to a minimum of 25 miles from the AM station out to the 2 mV/m contour but no further than 40 miles from the AM station. This change would substantially help Class C and some Class D AM stations that have very tiny 2 mV/m contours and allows more AM stations in rural areas to use less expensive non-directional antennas as they are not needing to go directional just to keep the protected contour of the translator inside the 2 mV/m contour.
REC has filed a petition for reconsideration to the original Report and Order that announced that the next window is going to be limited to AM stations only. During the rulemaking proceeding, community need was expressed by Prometheus Radio Project that LPFM stations need translators too. The Local Community Radio Act (LCRA) states that all new LPFM and FM translator licenses will be distributed "based on community need". A community need has been expressed. REC is asking that LPFM stations be allowed to apply for one translator in the second of the two "2017" windows so to give Class C and D AM stations a head start.
At this time, there are only three commissioners at the FCC. In addition to Ajit Pai, we have Republican Michael O'Rielly and Democrat Mignon Clyburn. Clyburn's term is getting ready to end. In order to have a quorum, there must be at least three members. Therefore, they can not effectively act on rulemaking proceedings. Until there is a quorum at the FCC, which will require the confirmation of more commissioners, we will not see much progress.
This lack of a Commission is also holding up other initiatives such as LP-250 and C4. REC will be attempting to work with Chairman Pai and Commissioner O'Rielly to move the FM translator forward while advocating for LPFM station participation in the second window. We will also try to lay the groundwork to move LP-250 and C4 together as a single rulemaking packaged as a community radio solution that benefits both non-commercial and commercial interests (a small number of full-power NCE stations operating on commercial channels [92.1~107.9] could potentially benefit from the Class C4 upgrade.).
Also, in order to move the AM on FM translator window forward, the FCC needs to complete the TV reverse and forward auctions as well as Auction 83 (the auction related to the 2003 Great Translator Invasion). At this time, it appears the reverse auction (the TV stations relinquishing spectrum) has been completed but the forward auction (the telecom companies picking up the former TV spectrum) is still in progress. Also, Auction 83 has a very small number of groups in it. So hopefully, these things can take place without a quorum at the Commission. I do not believe that Auction 83 needs any further action and that it can proceed under delegated authority (but I may be wrong on that).
Once we get these auctions completed and we get significant progress on the AM on FM translator window applications, then we can even think about a window for LPFM. Keep in mind too that other interests may get a window too. For example, reserved band NCE-FM. There may also be an auction filing window for new and modified AM stations in connection with any future Report and Order in the AM Revitalization proceeding. At this time, I would not expect any LPFM filing window until around 2023. For now, I would get the organization prepared as far as corporation status goes, get established in the community, perhaps do programs for an existing LPFM station or webcast. This will allow you to establish a listener base and build excitement and potential financial support when the opportunity to apply for and build an FM station comes down the horizon. For potential LPFM licensees, please do not let the upcoming AM on FM translator window worry you too much. Yes, it could impact some spectrum, especially in metro and suburban areas but we won't know the full outcome until after the window concludes. Unlike the Great Translator Invasion window in 2003, this window is limited to existing AM (and hopefully LPFM) licensees and not to third-party organizations/speculators such as the few we had 14 years ago.
For now, we need to advocate and plan. REC continues to need support on LP-250, especially from the faith-based community. Also for AM licensees, this is a time to start planning. REC is currently accepting AM broadcast clients for FM translators. We also want to point out that once the FCC announces the filing window, there will be a freeze of FM translator and booster applications and it is also very likely that there will be a freeze on LPFM applications. Therefore, LPFM stations needing to make a move should move on it sooner than later. LPFM stations should contact REC for assistance.
So for now, we need to hurry up and wait.