FCC decides fate of translators... proposes new LPFM rules.

The Federal Communications Commission has issued two Report and Orders (R&O), Orders on Reconsideration and a Fourth Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the matter of Low Power FM and FM Translators.


In the Fourth Report and Order, the FCC addresses Section 5 of the Local Community Radio Act (LCRA) that addresses the status of balancing FM translators with current and future LPFM opportunities. The FCC will adopt their proposed interpretations as mentioned in the Third NPRM:
• Section 5(1) requires that some minimum number of LPFM and Translator licenses be made available throughout the nation when licensing new LPFM and Translator stations.
• The FCC will consider existing stations in the overall policy of distribution.
• The FCC interprets Sections 5(1) and 5(2) to require that LPFM and translator licenses be made available in as many local communities as possible.
• The FCC recognizes that “LPFM stations are uniquely positioned to meet local needs, particularly in areas of higher population density where LPFM service is practical and sustainable.”
• The FCC recognizes that Translator licensing rules should not foreclose or unduly limit future LPFM licensing.
• The FCC’s challenge will be to identity and preserve LPFM licensing opportunities where few to no LPFM stations currently operate.
• The FCC also recognizes that translator applications should be avoided where LPFM stations can’t be licensed.
• The FCC stands by their original Section 5(3) definition of “equal in status” supporting prohibiting waivers of the LPFM cut-off rule, which would have prioritized pending FM translator applications over later-filed LPFM applications.

The FCC has taken into consideration the research performed by REC Networks that concluded that in several Arbitron Metro markets, the use of the 30 minute by 30 minute grid (31x31) included large areas with sparse population and has recognized in these cases, the 20 minute by 20 minute (21x21) grid proposed by REC, Prometheus Radio Project and Common Frequency better represents the population in the urbanized area. REC had identified 171 potential LPFM channels using the FCC’s channel search protocol that would have zero population within their service contours. These are channels that would have been counted as potential channels in a Metro market towards the proposed channel floor. The FCC will use the 21x21 grid in markets where at least 75% of the population in the 31x31 grid is actually within the 21x21 “inner zone” portion of the grid.

While the FCC has accepted the concept of a 21x21 grid in certain circumstances, they have denied the request of REC, Prometheus and Common Frequency to increase the channel floors. The FCC also declined to REC’s request that hyphenated Arbitron markets be separated and each considered on their own.

The terms “Process Market” and “Dismiss Market” have been replaced with the terms “Spectrum Available” (SA) and “Spectrum Limited” (SL) respectively.

In SL markets, the FCC will allow translator applicants to demonstrate that their proposed operation will not preclude any LPFM opportunities if granted. Translators will be permitted to make minor amendments in order to meet this “no preclusion” test. Translator applicants proposing to “move in” the facility into a SL market will also be allowed to make such a showing.

(corrected) Translator applicants in a SL market, regardless of whether inside or outside the grid, must protect LPFM opportunities within the grid. The FCC states that they have designated channel/points within each SL grid. According to the FCC, they only looked at co-channel and first adjacent channel (they are anticipating second adjacent waivers and a potential removal of I.F. channel protections). REC has re-ran the 1-minute by 1-minute LPFM checks based on the new parameters for each SL market. We have formulated a prediction of what we think these channel/point locations will be. Visit http://cdbs.recnet.net:8080/chanpoints.php to view an interactive tool to check potentially protected channels in each SL market.


In the Top 50 markets that have been declared Spectrum Limited, the FCC will require translator applicants outside the 31x31 grid to make a showing that no LPFM station could be licensed at the proposed site or if in LPFM can be licensed there, an additional channel remains available at the same site.

This order officially eliminates the “10-cap”, the policy that the FCC had proposed to limit each applicant to 10 pending translator applications. Instead, the FCC is enacting a national cap of 50 pending translator applications with a limitation of one application per market. The Media Bureau will issue a public notice requiring all applicants impacted by the cap to indicate which applications should continue to be considered. The FCC has dismissed numerous petitions for reconsideration filed by several translator applicants over the “10-cap”. With the “10-cap” officially eliminated, these petitions are dismissed as moot.

“While we recognize that high-volume filers did not violate our rules, these types of speculative filings are fundamentally at odds with core Commission broadcast licensing policies and contrary to the public interest.”

With the new application handling processes for FM Translators, the FCC has removed the restrictions on cross-service translators thus to allow any FM translator to operate cross-service.

While not addressing some of the issues about cross-service translators that were raised by REC and Prometheus, the FCC has announced that there will be a future rulemaking to update the FM Translator rules.


In the Fifth R&O, the FCC has officially implemented sections 2 and 3(a) of the LCRA to remove the requirements for third-adjacent channel protections. The third-adjacent channel restrictions still apply for the protection of foreign (Canada and Mexico) stations. This restriction is in compliance with international agreements and was a part of the original LPFM rules in 2000 when third adjacent channel protection to domestic allotments did not apply.

The FCC will also continue to require that LPFM stations protect the third-adjacent channel of full power FM stations operating radio reading services on subcarrier frequencies. REC notes that many of these services are in the reserved band (88~92 MHz) and even with the changes approved and proposed, there will continue to be minimal reserved band LPFM availability due to the methods used to engineer non-commercial educational (NCE) stations as well as LPFM’s continuing requirements to protect TV Channel 6.


The FCC will be accepting comments on various proposed changes to the LPFM service. Comments will be due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. Reply comments due 15 days after the comment deadline. REC will publish those dates once they are known.

The FCC is proposing develop a permanent second adjacent waiver process. The original process came into effect after changes to the full power rules in 2006 which made city of license changes easier. The FCC does feel that the second adjacent channel waiver language in the LCRA puts in place a harder policy on second adjacent channel waivers as it comes to showing of no interference. In the past, a balance of the loss caused by the interference was weighed with the potential loss of an LPFM station (up until now, second adjacent channels were only done on existing LPFM stations subject to displacement). The FCC is also inquiring if whether the “Living Way Defense” could be used by LPFM station. Under Living Way, an LPFM station could state there’s a “lack of population” or that the “interference does not reach the ground” by using undesired/desired signal strength ratio models to define interference areas.

The FCC is inquiring whether LPFM should be allowed to use directional antennas to protect second-adjacent channel stations.

The LCRA has specific rules to address third adjacent channels:
• Section 7(1) requires LPFM to have similar interference protections that FM Translators and boosters are required to provide per 74.1203 of the FCC rules.
• Section 7(2) requires new LPFM stations that are short spaced on the third adjacent channel under the current rules (using the second adjacent channel distance requirements) to broadcast periodic announcements to alert listeners to contact the LPFM station if there is interference. The REC LPFM Channel Search Tool has been identifying these stations in results.
• Section 7(3) requires LPFM stations on third-adjacent channels to address interference complaints within the protected contour of the affected station and to encourage them to address other interference complaints.
• Section 7(4) requires the FCC to allow LPFM stations on third adjacent channels to remediate interference by co-locating with the impacted station where technically feasible.
• Section 7(5) requires the FCC to “permit the submission of informal evidence of interference, including any engineering analysis that an affected station may commission.” “…accept complaints based on interference to a full-service FM station, FM translator station, or FM booster station by the transmitter site of a low-power FM station on a third-adjacent channel at any distance from the full-service FM station, FM translator station, or FM booster station,” and “accept complaints of interference to mobile reception.”
• Section 7(6) is the so-called “New Jersey Rule”. This rule extends the interference process to co-channel, first-adjacent and second-adjacent channel stations in states with more than 3,000,000 population and a population density greater than 1,000 persons per square mile land area. Under these provisions, the only US state that would qualify is New Jersey. This was a special interest provision put into the legislation to address the unique issues that New Jersey FM stations are experiencing. In 2004, the New Jersey Broadcasters Association filed a petition (RM-11099) that would extend the required protections to New Jersey FM stations by LPFM and FM translators. In the implementation of 7(6), the FCC is inquiring if whether Puerto Rico, which apparently also meets these population density characteristics should also be considered as a “state” for the purpose of enforcement of this rule.

The FCC is proposing to prohibit an LPFM station within a “potential interference area” of a translator that receives, directly off-air the signal of a third-adjacent FM station. The area being considered is within 2km of the translator or within 10km of the translator within the azimuths of -30 degrees to +30 degrees to the site of the station being rebroadcast by the translator.

An LPFM station can show that the undesired to desired ratio is below 34 dB at all locations. Alternatively, the LPFM station can make a showing using the equation in Section 2.7 of the MITRE Report to demonstrate lack of interference at the translator transmitter site. The FCC will allow the assumption of a “typical” antenna as this data is not tracked within the FCC’s CDBS database.

The FCC is soliciting comments on a proposal to eliminate the LP-10 service.

The FCC is proposing to establish a new LP-250 service. This service would be 250 watts at 30m HAAT with a service contour of 7km. The FCC also seeks comments on geographically restricting the location of LP-250 stations:
• In the Top-20 markets to more than 30km from the center city.
• In markets 21-50 to more than 20km from the center city.
• In markets 51-100 to more than 10km from the center city.
This proposal is similar to the REC “LPFM Zone” from the late 90s.

The FCC is also questioning if eligibility for higher powers should be limited to existing LPFM stations in order to provide these licensees who have “demonstrated their ability to construct and operate a limited opportunity to expand their listenership.”

Proposed by REC for many years, the FCC is now considering to remove I.F. channel spacing restrictions. This would be +/- 53 or 54 channels (+/- 10.6 or 10.8 MHz) from required protection in respect to domestic full power and translator stations. The FCC is proposing to remove these restrictions to LPFM stations operating LESS THEN 100 watts. The elimination if I.F. channel protection would not apply to foreign allotment in compliance with international agreements.

The FCC proposes to beef-up the language of 73.853(b) to clarify that only local applicants will be permitted to submit applications.

The FCC proposes to extend eligibility to Native Nations (American Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Villages) and is inquiring on the eligibility of Native Nations to hold licenses as we well as propose a bonus point (for mutually exclusive applications) that involve a Native Nation applicant who is proposing a transmitting antenna on tribal lands. This proposal is consistent with other recent FCC initiatives to support expansion of broadcasting on tribal lands.

The FCC is also seeking comment on whether a Native Nation can have an attributable interest in full power stations and an LPFM station. In addition, the FCC is inquiring whether a Native Nation should be permitted to operate more than one LPFM station.

The FCC is considering whether an LPFM licensee can also be the licensee of an FM translator. The FCC is interested in hearing how a translator can impact the local services provided by an LPFM station and whether there should be overlap in service contours by the LPFM and a commonly owned translator.

The FCC is proposing the following changes to the handling of “MX” (competing) LPFM applications in order to avoid involuntary time-share situations:
• Local community presence: require that the organization maintain the local presence at all times thereafter, extend the local community presence time prior to filing the application to 4 years or keep at 2 years but award a bonus point to the organization with the longest presence, extend the “established community presence” standard to 20 miles in rural areas, additional points to organizations filing as a consortia.
• Local program origination: increase bonus points to applicants pledging 8 hours per local programming per day from 1 to 2 points. The FCC is also asking for comments on various issues such as whether local programming points should be different for rural stations, whether the new “consortia” concept alleviates the need for local program origination or whether the points should even exist (citing that some non-local programming may be of value to a community).
• Tribal priority: As mentioned, the FCC is considering adding a bonus point for stations operated by Native Nations.
• The FCC is interested in any other bonus point ideas you may have.

The FCC is asking for comments on how to handle situations where one station that is in a time-share agreement does not construct or surrenders their license/permit. Currently, the remaining stations can work out a new time share agreement. The FCC is proposing a “mini-window” to allow for other interested parties to file for any abandoned time and whether the mini-window should be limited to unsuccessful applicants in the MX group.

Currently, LPFM stations must operate 36 hours a week (5 hours a day, 6 days a week), which is similar to the non-commercial educational (NCE) rules. NCE rules also requires stations that do not operate 12 hours a day for each day of the year to be required to share time, this rule does not apply to LPFM. The FCC is proposing to make this rule also apply to LPFM.

Comments on MM Docket 99-25 will be due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register and reply comments will be due 45 days after publication. REC will announce these dates once they are determined. We invite you to participate in the FCC rulemaking process.

Over the next few weeks, REC will be updating website content and broadcast tools to address the changed and proposed rules.

Michi Eyre
REC Networks
202 621-2355