21-263: FCC proposes minor rule changes to fix inconsistencies, harmonize Class D

The Federal Communications Commission has released a circulation draft for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in MB Docket 21-263, which eliminates or modifies some outmoded or unnecessary broadcast regulations as well as harmonizes some rules to be consistent with other rules and previously updated international agreements. This item will be voted on or before the next FCC Open Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, July 13.

Full-Service NCE Community of License Coverage

 §73.515 of the Rules currently require that full-service noncommercial educational (NCE) stations provide a 60 dBu coverage contour in at least 50% of the community of license or 50% of the population in the community of license.  This rule is not proposed to be changed.  Instead, the FCC is proposing to change the wording in two rules, §73.316 (FM directional antennas) and §73.1690 (stations needing to operate at reduced power) to be consistent with 50% rules in §73.515.  This will have no impact on any current full-service NCE stations, nor will it have any impact on applications filed in the upcoming window. 

Class D Second Adjacent Channel Protection

Class D stations are secondary facilities that can originate programming and operate with a service contour of less than 6 kilometers.  In all states except Alaska, remaining Class D stations are grandfathered.  In Alsaka, Class D stations are available at any time without having to wait for a filing window.  Class D is limited to NCE operation.

Until 2000, full-service NCE stations were required to protect second-adjacent channel stations with a 80 dBu interfering contour.  In 2000, this rule was changed for full-service NCE stations to a 100 dBu contour,  consistent with third-adjacent channel stations.  However, at that time, the new criteria was not changed for Class D stations.  

The FCC is now proposing to change the second-adjacent channel criteria for Class D stations to prohibit overlap of the 100 dBu interfering contour with the 60 dBu protected contour of other facilities.  This will bring Class D FM stations to a level more consistent with the rules for FM Translators.  This will allow Class D stations a slightly improved flexibility if the need arises to modify their facility.

This does not impact LPFM's §73.807 distance separation requirement of 6 kilometers from LPFM to Class D stations on second-adjacent channels as that value is based on a 100 dBu LPFM interfering contour.

Clarification on International Agreements

Several rules in Parts 73 and 74 still have language that was codified prior to 1991.  Since then, the FCC reached new international FM broadcasting agreements with Canada in 1991 and Mexico in 1992.  The NPRM proposes to amend the language in FM Translator rule §74.1235 to be consistent with the 1991 Canada and 1992 Mexico agreements.  In addition, the full-service commercial FM distance separation tables in §73.207 are proposed amended to correct the minimum distance separation values between the United States and Canada.

When REC proposed the language that was eventually codified in MB Docket 19-193 to permit directional antennas for international agreements and permit ERPs exceeding 50 watts in the "strip zone" area within 125 km of the Mexican border, we had used the language directly from the 1991 and 1992 agreements.  Therefore, the language in §73.807 already reflects the correct international agreements and is not proposed modified in this NPRM

AM Fill-in Area Definition

In the 2017 AM Revitalziation prceeding, the FCC changed the "fill-in" area where AM stations can have translators in §73.1201(g).  This area was defined as the greater of either the 2 mV/m daytime contour of the AM station or a 25-mile radius centered at the AM station's transmitter site.  The NPRM does not propose to change this definition in §73.1201(g), but instead modifies §73.1201(j) which was never changed in the 2017 proceeding to match the current definition in §73.1201(g).

Other proposed changes

Other minor changes include removing a rule requiring the maximum rated transmitter power limit for AM stations, removing a rule regarding the placement of an FM station antenna within 60 meters of another FM or TV antenna and removing a grandfathered protection rule for non-broadcast common carrier licensees on 76~100 MHz in Alaska (all of these services no longer operate).

Impact to LPFM stations: extremely minimal to none

The only rule change that could have any potential to impact LPFM stations is the minor change to the Class D distance separations.  §73.509(b) provides for specific protections for Class D to any other "station".  This language does not distinguish full-service, LPFM, FM Translators or other Class D stations, just "stations".  We do not believe it was the Commission's intention to assume "stations" as just full-service stations and to suggest that there is no protection between secondary Class D stations and secondary Class D, LPFM and FM translator stations.  At 99 watts ERP, the 80 dBu interfering contour is 1.813 km where the 100 dBu interfering contour is 0.698 km using the free space equation.  This would mean that Class D stations could be located up to about 1 km closer to other broadcast facilities on second-adjacent channels.  

There are currently 171 Class D FM stations, of which, 70 stations are in Alaska. 

There are no changes proposed to any Part 73 Subpart G (§73.8XX) rules in this NPRM