Some new LPFM rules take effect on July 13.. others are still on deck.

Several changes to the FCC Rules from the recent LPFM Technical Change Order (MB Docket 19-193) were published today in the Federal Register.  Many of the rules will take effect on July 13, 2020.  Some rules, which require a change to FCC forms or other changes to information collection need to go through another step with the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before they are effective.  The various rules that will go into effect on July 13 include:

Sharing of EAS decoders.

§11.52 will be amended to allow for two or more LPFM stations that are in a time-share agreement with each other and share a single transmitter at a common site will be permitted to also share an EAS decoder.  It is important that both stations have full access to the logs as both stations will be equally responsible for the upkeep and readiness of the equipment.

Mexico “strip zone” rule/other international agreement-related rules

§73.807 will be amended to add specific rules for LPFM stations located within 320 km of an international border pursuant to the existing international agreements with Canada and Mexico. 

Stations within 125 km of Mexico will eventually be able to operate at powers exceeding 50 in all directions away from Mexican territory while still maintaining 50 watts or less towards Mexico.  Implementation of this rule may be delayed as a result of §73.816 regarding directional antennas being held for OMB approval.  In addition, stations within 125 km of Mexico may only have a 60 dBu contour of no more than 8.7 km and a 34 dBu interfering contour of no more than 32 km in the direction of Mexico.  Stations more than 125 km from Mexico may operate up to 100 watts as long as no portion of the 60 dBu contour comes within 116.3 km of Mexico. 

Stations within 320 km of Canada will be limited to a 34 dBu contour not exceeding 60 kilometers in any direction.  REC will be working with staff to determine if some of the methods that translators utilize where the interfering contour remains outside of Canadian soil can also apply to LPFM stations.  REC has identified several stations in the Canadian border zone with 34 dBu contours exceeding 60 km.  We do not expect the FCC to take any action against any facility that has already been granted as those facilities would have already had concurrence with Canada.

Like with Mexico, border issues will be able to be handled with a directional antenna.  The directional antenna rules are currently pending OMB approval.

Protection to TV Channel 6

For LPFM stations proposing operation on 88.1~91.9, §73.825 for LPFM stations and §73.512 for Class D stations will be amended to permit these stations to waive their normal Channel 6 protection requirements if they receive written concurrence from the licensee of the impacted Channel 6 station.  In addition, LPFM stations may apply for a waiver of the Channel 6 rules if they can show through a contour study that there will be no interference to the Channel 6 station.  In previous rulemakings, REC had proposed this method of contour protection in lieu of the fixed distances in the current rules.  The protection method can be found in §74.1205, the Channel 6 protection rule for FM translators. 

We do note that another proceeding, MB Docket 03-185 is currently working on the future of Low Power TV Channel 6 stations, especially those that target FM radio listeners, mainly on 87.7 (sometimes referred to as “Franken-FM” stations) after the planned shutdown of remaining analog television broadcasting on July 13, 2021.  In the proposed rulemaking in 19-193, the FCC proposed to eliminate all protection requirements between FM stations (full-service, LPFM, Class D and translators) and TV channel 6 stations (full and low power).  Last minute objections from full-service TV stations such as WPVI, Philadelphia has resulted in the FCC deferring the final solution for the Channel 6 issue, especially in light of the activity taking place in 03-185.

Boosters for LPFM stations

Rule sections §73.860 §74.1201, §74.1263 and §74.1283 are being amended to accommodate FM boosters for LPFM stations.  There are currently 5 LPFM booster authorizations and one pending application, all in Southern California and all being advocated by REC.  The new rules will “mainstream” the use of boosters in LPFM without the need of a waiver request.  FM boosters will be counted as a “translator” towards an LPFM station’s current limit of two commonly-owned translator. 

Boosters are complex and for most LPFM stations would not be effective because of the size of their service contours.  Very few LPFM stations would benefit from them. Boosters are an exceptional situation and should be referred to REC or another person with experiences in boosters and LPFM stations.

Minor site moves on amendments

Section §73.871 is being amended to permit a move of up to 11.2 km as a minor change on amendments to pending applications.  In addition, moves exceeding 11.2 km may be requested as a minor change if a showing can be made that the 60 dBu contour of the currently proposed (or licensed) facility overlaps the 60 dBu contour of the proposed facility.  Its companion rule, §73.870, which relates to similar site moves on modification applications is still pending OMB approval.

Non-substantive rule changes are being made to §73.811, the third-adjacent interference rule to clarify secondary stations and to remove §74.1290, which only stated that information about translators and boosters can be found at the FCC website.

Rule changes pending OMB approval

Rule changes that involve changes in how information is collected by the FCC including changes to forms requires approval from the Office of Management and Budget.  On June 4, the FCC released a proposal in the Federal Register of the items being submitted for OMB approval under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA).  Until August 3, 2020, comments are being accepted by the FCC through their PRA staff on the proposed changes to information collection and the forms, especially how it relates to how burdensome the new processes are.  Here are the changes from 19-193 and the LPFM/NCE administrative rulemaking, MB Docket 19-3 that were included in that PRA request.  As comments are not due until August, it is likely that these changes may not take place until at least the fourth quarter of 2020.

Mutual exclusivity (MX) and time sharing

The FCC will amend various LPFM and full-service NCE rules to put in place, changes to the MX and time-sharing rules.  For LPFM, this will mean changes to time share groups by limiting new groups to three in an effort to thwart “point stacking”.  For full-service NCE, this will reduce the documentation requirements, restructuring the point system and adding a third tie-breaker for organizations that applied in 2007 and were unsuccessful. 

Assignments and transfers

Once approved, §73.865 will be modified to change how LPFM stations are assigned (to a different organization) or transferred (to other board members within the same organization).  The new rules will eliminate the mandatory prohibition of assignments of unbuilt construction permits as long as the original grantee has had at least 18 months to try to build their facility.  The three year waiting period assignments that are constructed and licensed will be replaced by a new four year period where, if the station is assigned within the first 4 years of operation, must go to an organization, that if they had participated in the filing window would have scored the same amount of points or higher and if tied with the current licensee, has an older community presence date. 

For assignments, LPFM stations currently may only seek the depreciated fair market value of tangible equipment associated with the station and included in the transaction.  When the new rules are codified, the purchase agreement can include an amount that is based on the actual amount spent to acquire equipment and construct the station.  This means that equipment can be listed for new value.  Costs for installers, engineers and consultants can be included.  Wages, rent, music licensing and other periodic payments cannot be added.

Directional antennas

Once approved, §73.816 will be modified to extend the eligibility to use directional antennas to all LPFM stations.  LPFM stations are currently able to use directional antennas to protect short-spaced second-adjacent channel stations (they may also use a directional antenna to “exclude” a nearby structure the immediate vicinity of the transmitter).  The rules also permit LPFM stations licensed to municipal and state government agencies that carry a traveler information service (TIS) to operate directional antennas.  Normally, before a directional antenna will be licensed, there must be a proof of performance from the manufacturer of the antenna and verification from a licensed surveyor to state that the antenna was mounted correctly (this is similar to full-service rules).  Exceptions to the proof and verification requirements will be made if the directional antenna is solely for the purpose of second-adjacent channel protection, TIS or international agreements. 

Directional antennas cannot be used to short-space other facilities (except domestic second-adjacent channel FM stations and TV Channel 6 stations), therefore the station must meet the minimum distance separations in §73.807. Directional antennas can’t be used to extend a 60 dBu contour any farther than that of a comparable nondirectional station. 

Currently, the FCC permits directional antennas for TIS and second-adjacent waivers and in those cases, the LPFM is considered nondirectional in respect to protection from FM translators.  The wording in the PRA request suggests that the FCC will turn on the directional antenna functionality in LMS for LPFM stations.  REC opposes turning on this functionality, at least for TIS and second-adjacent channel purposes as there is existing language in rules (for TIS) and in prior decisions to support LPFM’s nondirectional status, despite having a directional antenna.  REC has filed comments with the OMB and FCC’s PRA coordinator as this may have been an oversight in the proceeding.  Directional antennas were allowed for TIS back in 2000 and for second-adjacent channel waivers in 2012.

Silent Stations

§73.850 of the rules will eventually be changed to require LPFM stations that are silent for 10 to 30 days to file a silent notification to the FCC and for stations planning to be silent for 31 days or longer, to file for a Special Temporary Authority.  The addition of this rule was to correct an oversight from 2000.  REC requested this rule be added to give LPFM stations a firm understanding of the Commission’s rules and to help FCC staff better track silent LPFM stations.  Despite the lack of a current rule, many LPFM stations are filing silent notifications and STAs when appropriate.

Minor moves for LPFM stations

Currently, LPFM stations may move up to 5.6 km as a minor change.  In the past few years, the FCC has granted waivers to the 5.6 km barrier upon a showing that no viable sites are available within 5.6 km and that there is 60 dBu overlap between the current and proposed location.  With the change to §73.870, the FCC will permit a move of up to 11.2 km.  In addition, a move further than 11.2 km would be considered a minor change if a contour study shows a 60 dBu overlap between the current and proposed location.

In addition to the LPFM and NCE full-service changes, the recent PRA request will also enact the new Public Notice rules that were recently adopted in MB Docket 17-264.

Filing windows for new NCE full-service and LPFM stations cannot take place until sometime after these rules are finally codified.  REC had advised staff that a full-service NCE window should take place first, as NCE has been waiting since 2007 (compared to 2013 for LPFM) and that the July 13, 2021 analog TV shutdown may have no impact on full-service NCE stations as they are not required to protect low-power TV stations.  In addition, full-service stations should have first choice of channels in the reserved band (88.1~91.9) as to not cause the displacement of LPFM stations if LPFM was to go first.  REC does not envision an LPFM window until after the analog TV shutdown.

Stay tuned to REC’s website and Facebook page for updates as they unfold.

Corrected to reflect the correct date for the analog TV sunset.