FCC Shuts Door on Most FM Translator Major Change Applications

Under FCC rules, licensees of FM translators are normally not allowed to apply for a modification that results in the translator serving an entirely new area, as demarcated by the predicted 60 dBu contour, unless such modification is filed in a filing window (which is a rare occurrence). However, since 2011, the FCC has granted waivers of that rule in cases where the translator is to be used to rebroadcast an AM station and the applicant meets other certain requirements, which are:  (1) the applicant didn’t have a history of filing serial minor change applications which together made a major change to a translator; (2) the modification was mutually exclusive with the current translator license; and (3) the proposed location wasn’t in an LPFM spectrum-limited market. This new policy was decided in a landmark case where a translator licensee requested a major change waiver to move a translator to another site so that the translator could be used as a “fill-in” for the coverage of an AM station. The waiver made available by this decision in these limited circumstances is known as a “Mattoon” waiver, named after the community of license of the translator in that case. You can read that decision here: http://www.fcc.gov/document/cromwell-group-inc-illinois.

Major change translator applications subsequently came in from applicants who wished to rebroadcast FM stations, not AM stations. To move their translators into another community many miles away, applicants relied on the Mattoon decision and asked for a major change waiver. Some of these applications were actually granted by the FCC even though, due to of the lack of the AM station component, their situations weren’t the same as Mattoon.

On December 10, 2014, the FCC officially shut the door on any Mattoon waiver application that didn’t involve rebroadcasting an AM station. An Application for Review was filed by a translator licensee that applied to move a translator from one location to another such that the existing and proposed 60 dBu contours didn’t overlap (thus a major change) and cited both the Mattoon waiver and other waiver requests that lacked the AM station criterion of Mattoon but were granted anyway.

The FCC denied the request, stating the following: “[The applicant] cites a number of waiver requests that likewise did not comply with the [AM station] criterion of Mattoon…but were nevertheless granted by the Bureau staff. These grants were made in error and without written decisions during a period of high volume FM translator modification application filings. In 2013, the Bureau directed staff to cease granting such waivers…However, [the grants of previous waivers] are final and cannot be rescinded. It is well established, however, that erroneous staff actions do not bind the Commission.” The FCC originally granted the Mattoon waiver to further their AM revitalization effort by helping AM stations recover lost coverage using FM translators, but not to remove regulatory burdens for all translator applicants.

See this decision here: http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-upholds-dismissal-minor-modification-application-emf.

As previously written in this blog, the FCC is expected to open a filing window in 2015 for applications for new translators that would rebroadcast AM stations.




FCC Accepting Comments on Proposed New FM Station Class “C4”

From now until August 18th, the FCC is accepting comments on a Petition for Rulemaking, filed by Matthew K. Wesolowski of SSR Communications, to modify the laws to create a new class of FM station – Class C4 – which, power wise, would be between a Class A and Class C3.  According to the petition, the proposed rule changes would provide hundreds of Class A stations with the opportunity to increase their coverage.  The maximum facilities of a Class C4 station would be 12 KW ERP at 100 meters antenna height AAT.  The petition as written addresses stations in FM Broadcast Zone II, of the United States only (which is most of the area in the US).

The FCC must yet decide, based on the comments filed in this comment period, whether to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which is the first real step towards changing the FCC rules regulating broadcast stations.  If you would like to file a comment on the proposed rule making, either for or against, you can do so electronically here.  The FCC rule making number is RM-11727.

UPDATE:  The FCC has extended the comment deadline to September 18, 2014.  The new reply comment deadline is October 3, 2014.

Another Translator Opportunity for AM Station Owners?

As part of the FCC’s “AM revitalization” initiative, there is a proposal to open an application filing window exclusively for AM station owners to apply for an FM translator to shore up their coverage.  FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai reportedly would like to see such a window happen “no later than 2015”.  It couldn’t come soon enough for some AM stations who’ve been struggling with increased interference, low power at night, or early sign-off.  In anticipation of an application window, AM station owners should have their consultants determine if an FM frequency is available in their communities.  I would certainly be happy to assist you – just give me a call.


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AFCCE 2014 Annual Meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia

The Association of Federal Communications Consulting Engineers recently held its annual meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia June 18th through 22nd.  While there, we were treated to a very interesting tour of the Nautel transmitter  manufacturing plant in picturesque Hacketts Cove.  Nautel is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of AM, FM and TV transmitters, with more than 12,000 units shipped to 177 countries.

group at Nautel