18-119: FCC adopts new FM translator interference remediation rules

Updated at 4:15 PM EDT 5/9/2019 to add a link to the text of the R&O and additional information on the ex parte presentations.

Today, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a Report and Order on MB Docket 18-119 which calls for modifications to §74.1204 and §74.1203 of the rules as it relates to predicted and actual interference caused by new and modified FM translators.  

As noted by Lisa Scanlan, attorney advisor for the Audio Division, the proposed changes addresses the increasing number of FM translators coming on the air and the uptick in inteference complaints from primary FM stations due to the increasing number of translators on the air.  Scanlan states because of how the interference resolution process can be lengthy, contentious and expensive for all parties concerned, there need to be more certainty and clarity regarding how stations report and resolve issues with translator interference. 

As a part of the Report and Order:

  • Translators will have the ability to move to non-adjacent channels to quickly resolve an interference issue.  Translators would only need to make a showing that their current channel is receiving interference.  Translators doing a channel change would only be permitted to change to another channel in the same "band".  The two bands on FM are the reserved band (88.1~91.9) and the non-reserved band (92.1~107.9).  The concept of non-adjacent channel changes for interference mitigation has been commonplace for LPFM stations for many years now.
  • Establish a minimum number of complaints necessary to trigger a complaint "package".  The number of complaints required will be based on the population within the incumbent station's protected service contour.  A carve-out has been put in place to reduce the number of complaints needed to trigger a complaint package for rural LPFMs with a service contour population of less than 5,000 persons.
  • The process establishes an outer limit of 45 dBu, where listeners located outside of that contour would not be able to be included in an interference package.  The FCC plans a waiver process in the event there are a significant number of listeners outside of the 45 dBu contour that are experiencing interference.
  • While not mentioned in today's meeting, it appears that at the listener's location, that there must be an undesired to desired (U/D) ratio that would suggest interference using contours (in other words, if the protected contour of the incumbent station was extended to the listener's location, would a similar extension of the translator's interfering contour cause an overlap of the protected and interfering contours).
  • Listeners will no longer be required to participate in the remediation procedures. Instead, the incumbent and interfering stations will need to work together.

Commission O'Rielly called this Report and Order as a "thoughtful and careful balance in repsonding to the needs of parties who are seeking to resolve complaints efficiently and effectively."  He expects many interference issues to be resolved through minor channel changes, others will require a more extensive process to resolve. 

Commissioner Rosenworcel, echoed many of O'Rielly's statements. 

Commissioner Carr commended the Media Bureau on an item that does not get a lot of headlines (what he normally says about issues like this), but stated that the reforms put in place will make a big difference to make sure stations can stay on the air and serve their communities. 

Commissioner Starks, recognizing the upcoming 100 year anniversary of broadcast radio states that radio reaches 93% of us every week and that hundreds of millions of americans tun into AM, FM, Low Power FM and translators for news, information, entertainment and to receive critical emergency alerts in time of trouble.  Starks would state that although FM translators receive only secondary protection, they are "crucial parts of our radio landscape that allows signals to reach distant communities and navigate tricky terrain".  He further stated that the Commission must remain vigilant for these rules to work as intended, it largely succeds in finding a balance. 

Chairman Pai made references to the 2019 Super Bowl and Kentucky Derby where "interference" played a pivotal role in the outcomes of those competitions and equates how the Commission needs clear rules with how to deal with interference cases.

The agenda item passed 5-0. 

Following the release of the draft Report and Order in mid-April and the 7-day "Sunshine" cut-off period, there was a small flurry of ex parte presentations.  REC Networks seeked clarification of the definition of the 45 dBu outer limit where it comes to pre-1962 super-powered Class B FM stations for which Educational Media Foundation opposed REC's position that in accordance with the 1962 Report and Order, super-powered Class B stations can't impede development of the medium and need to be protected and handled using their class-maximum powers instead of actual super-powers.  Henson Media opposed the concept of allowing a waiver for a large number of listeners outside of the outer limit as well as opposing the outer limit itself at 45 dBu, recommending 48 dBu instead.  iHeart Media and Beasley addressed the threshold of listeners required to trigger an interference package stating it should be based on the overall population in the area getting the interference instead of the overall service contour of the incumbent station.  The National Association of Broadcasters also felt that the "sliding scale" of required complaints based on population should be reduced stating that for populations of more than 2 million persons, the maximum threshold should be 25 valid listener complaints.  

Updated 5/9/19 4:15PM: The Media Bureau has accepted the suggestions of the NAB to cut the "sliding scale" chart back so any station with a coverage contour population of 2 million or more would only need 25 valid listener complaints.  The FCC did deny REC's request for clarification on super-powered Class B stations stating that they will not use this rulemaking proceeding to make that kind of determination.  As a result, Class B stations operating over their class maximums will have their 45 dBu outer limits based on their actual ERP and HAAT and not the class-maximum ERP.

Like with any item that the Commission adopts, the Media Bureau will have editorial privilege and can make some non-substantialo changes or clarifications.  REC does feel that this Report and Order will go to a Petition for Reconsideration, which holds the risk that the implementation of this Report and Order will be further delayed.

The new rules will not go into effect until a time after the rules are published in the Federal Register.

The text of the Report and Order can be found here.

REC's revised advice to LPFM stations for Translator to LPFM interference handling can be found here.

To support the new rule requirements, REC has published a U/D Ratio Calculator to determine if a listener is within the 45 dBu coverage contour and whether the U/D Ratio of the interfering (undesired) and incumbent (desired) stations meets the minimum requirement to include in an interference complaint.  REC's tool is limited to LPFM desired stations only.  For assistance with non-LPFM services, please contact REC Networks at 202 621-2355. 

Please see our FAQ for an explanation of U/D Ratio.

Please stay tuned to this website and REC's Facebook Page for updates.