(obsolete) REC Advisory Letter #3: Lifting of freeze on new DTV allotments may impact LPFM/NCE availability

This document was delcared obsolete on August 3, 2023.

This REC Advisory Letter is directed to prospective participants in the 2021 NCE Filing Window, potential 2022 LPFM Filing Window as well as existing NCE and LPFM licensees planning minor change applications in the reserved band (88.1~91.9 MHz, channels 201~220). 

Lifting of DTV Rulemaking Freeze

The FCC has announced that effective 15 days after publication in the Federal Register, they will be dropping the 16-year freeze on Petitions for Rulemaking involving Digital Television (DTV).  This includes petitions to add new DTV allotments, change channels on the DTV table of allotments, changes in communities of license and modification applications to increase a full-power or Class A TV station's service area beyond the area that is already served.

This application freeze was originally put into place in 2004 due to the original transition to DTV and then maintined through the end of the post-incentive transition period (aka, the repack) in order to maintain a stable spectrum database.  

There are impacts to prospective NCE/LPFM applicants and stations seeking minor modifications in the reserved band.

With the freeze lifted, it may be possible for new proposals for TV Channel 6 (82~88 MHz).  If a new facility is proposed for Channel 6, new and modified LPFM, NCE and FM translator stations proposing to operate in the reserved band would need to adhere to the protection methods outlined in the appropriate section of the rules, §73,825, §73.525 and §74.1205, respectively.  

For new and modified LPFM stations, this will mean that applications for the reserved band will only be accepted if one of the following is met:

  • There is a minimum distance separation between the LPFM and the full-service Channel 6 station.  The required distance varies by FM channel and can range between 130 and 140 kilometers;
  • A waiver is requested and a contour study is conducted to demonstrate that no overlap exists between the 47 dBu F(50,50) contour of the full-service TV station and an interfering contour for the LPFM station, based on channel and defined in the FM translator rule, §74.1205.  If this waiver is requested, then notification to the affected TV station is  required; or
  • Consent is received from the impacted TV station(s).

It is REC's position that despite the lifting of the freeze, new DTV allotments on Channel 6 will continue to be undesirable to many due to the protection requirements to full-service NCE stations and the undesirability of using Channel 6 due to its propagation characteristics and the burdens on receiver antenna design in this modern "cut the cord" culture. 

There is no direct impact to existing reserved band LPFM and NCE stations not seeking modification.

Proponents for new DTV allotments on Channel 6 must submit an engineering study demonstrating that no interference would be caused to existing radio stations on FM channels 200~220. (§73.623(f)). 

LPFM does not have any specific rules relating to displacement from TV Channel 6 stations.  The only rules regarding displacement are for full-service allotments. (§73.809)

There is no impact to existing LPFM stations on Channels 221~300 (92.1~107.9) 

Since LPFM stations in the non-reserved band (channels 221~300) are not required to protect TV Channel 6 stations, there is no impact to LPFM stations operating on Channels 221~300 and there will be no impact on minor modifications that specify Channels 221~300. 

Efforts to repeal protection requirements from FM to TV Channel 6 stations

In MB Docket 19-193, the FCC had proposed to eliminate all protection requirements between FM (LPFM, NCE and translator) and TV channel 6 stations (full and low power).  Due to some last minute lobbying from various full-service Channel 6 licensees, the FCC has deferred action on the complete elimination of protection requirements.  We note that this is something that NPR has been pushing for and that in the past, NPR has conducted studies to demonstrate that the same issues that impacted analog TV stations in an era when viewers were using receivers with mechanical tuners may not exist in the DTV environment. 

Impacts on the "Franken FM" proceeding

In MB Docket 03-185, the FCC is still working out what, if anything should be done regarding analog Low Power TV stations that are using their aural carrier to convey an FM broadcast service (normally received on 87.7 or illegally on 87.9) to radio listeners instead of focusing on television service.  The FCC has previously ordered that all remaining LPTV analog television services be discontinued on July 13, 2021, however the question on still remains whether "Franken FM" stations' analog carriers should be grandfathered in either as an overall analog service or as a digital hybrid.  The FCC can either choose to make a decision prior to the sunset or not take action and let these stations just sunset.

It is also important to know that these "Franken FM" stations are all LPTV stations, so they are secondary in status.  They can be displaced by a new Channel 6 and in some cases, by a new Channel 5 allotment.

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