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.




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