03-185: REC calls for the sunset of FM6 (Franken FM) operations and supports elimination of FM to TV6 protection requirements

In comments to the Federal Communications Commission, REC Networks, a leading advocate for a diverse dial has called for the sunset of analog audio services provided by some Low Power TV (LPTV) channel 6 stations, sometimes referred to as FM6 or by a more pejorative term, "Franken FM", as well as calling for the elimination of the requirement that FM broadcast stations on 88.1~91.9 MHz provide adjacent channel protections to TV facilities on RF Channel 6.

REC agrees with NPR, FM6 is a waste of spectrum

REC cites the facts that while FM6 stations have been providing a viable audio service on a portion of their TV station, they have had a long history of providing non-viable video services, both during the time when LPTV stations were analog where video included unrelated subject matter, computer graphics or in some cases, no video carrier at all to the current ATSC3 digital operations where FM6 LPTV stations are using their video bandwidth for non-public interest programming, such as home shopping channels.  REC agrees with previous statements made by National Public Radio that LPTV stations operating FM6 are wasting over 96% of their allotted channel in order to provide a single audio service, which can be better provided by a FM broadcast station. 

Secondary channel 5 & 6 LPTV stations are really "quasi primary"

REC also cites that as a secondary service, FM6 LPTV stations are not subject to the same rules that are required of other commercial broadcasters, such as the need to maintain a public file, nor are they subject to all broadcast TV rules, such as the need to address the need for educational and informative programming for children and filing of Children's Television Programming Reports.  Also, with the fact that full-service TV stations on Channels 5, 6 and other VHF low band channels have been filing to move to UHF or high VHF channels, these LPTV stations enjoy a "quasi primary" status with minimal technical restrictions as they only need to protect other TV facilities on Channels 5 and 6 and not on any other TV channel due to the gaps in frequency between Channels 4 and 5 and between Channels 6 and 7. 

The world is shifting their VHF spectrum use

REC also cites the changes in TV spectrum use that have taken place globally with the conversion to digital terrestrial television, where most nations, except for the United States, Canada, Mexico and a couple of islands in the Caribbean have abandoned the use of low band VHF and has concentrated their digital terrestrial television operations on UHF with some nations also using VHF high band spectrum.  REC also notes recent activity by Japan and Brazil to expand FM sound broadcasting into spectrum adjacent to their country's respective legacy FM broadcast bands.  

REC calls for a new future for VHF low band

REC's position is that the public interest would be better served by allocating the Channel 6 spectrum, along with the Channel 5 spectrum to create 60 new channels for FM sound broadcasting on a shared basis with eight RF Channel 6 and fifteen RF Channel 5 full-service TV stations.

RELATED: REC files Petition for Rulemaking to extend the FM band down to 76 MHz.

While REC's position is that the FM6 services should be sunsetted, REC's plan called WIDE-FM, which proposes to extend analog FM sound broadcasting into 60 channels between 76 and 88 MHz can include accommodations to create an allotment for commercial FM services on 87.7 MHz in the 13 markets identified by the FCC as having FM6 services being provided on a special temporary authority (STA) basis.  Since FM6 LPTV stations are secondary operations, those operations, along with other LPTV stations that operate on RF Channels 5 and 6 would be displaced with the introduction of new primary FM services.  REC included a comprehensive plan on how 20 channels, in most areas on Channel 6 spectrum, can be implemented in a manner that protects primary TV services.  

A dignified exit for FM6

In the meantime, REC calls on the FCC to take no further actions to expand FM6 by codifying rules or modifying the conditions of the STAs that the 13 stations are operating on and to permit the renewal of these STAs until a time when this spectrum is needed for primary full-service FM operation. 

The time is now to eliminate the analog-era FM to TV6 protection rule

REC has also noted in comments that they support efforts to eliminate the protection requirements by FM stations operating in the "reserved band" (88.1~91.9 MHz) to TV facilities on Channel 6.  Full-service FM facilities are required to protect primary full-service Channel 6 facilities while LPFM and FM translators are also required to protect secondary Channel 6 services including LPTV, TV Translator and Digital Replacement Translator stations.  As REC notes, the protection requirements are obsolete with the conversion to digital television and the fact that virutally no receivers for Channel 6 that were on the market in 1985, when the restriction was put in place are still in use due to the conversion to digital television.  The rules reflect issues when television tuners were mechanical and did not have the same selectivity and adjacent channel rejection of the modern receivers of today.  

The FCC's original effort to remove the FM to TV6 restrictions were in response to REC's Petition for Rulemaking, which was carried forward in MB Docket 19-193, which did not call for the complete elimination of FM to TV6 protections, but instead permitted reserved band LPFM stations to use the same rules that reserved band FM translators use to demonstrate protection to secondary TV6 facilities.  While the FCC did release in a circulation draft of the Report and Order in 19-193 that they would completely eliminate the protection requirement, it was met with opposition, lead by ABC Disney, licensee of WPVI, RF Channel 6, Philadelphia in which other Channel 6 stations at the time followed their lead.  The result was the FCC tabled the removal of full FM to TV6 protections for a future proceeding (this one) and that the FCC would accept REC's original request on a waiver basis. 

At the time when the 19-193 Report and Order was adopted, the FCC stated that they would address the FM to TV6 protection issue in a future proceeding.  03-185 is that future proceeding. 

Reply Comments in MB Docket 03-185 are due on August 1, 2022.