RM-11952: Translator Reform petition up for comment at the FCC.
In 2003, the FCC unknowingly caused the Great Translator Invasion. In this window, over 13,000 applications were filed for new FM translators in the Auction 83 filing window, of which, almost one-third of the applications were filed by two commonly owned entities. What would entail afterwards was the loss of many opportunities for new LPFM stations, a place in federal legislation, massive permit trafficking and one of the biggest government handouts ever for an auction that only raised $574,711 to the US Treasury.
Early on, even the FCC was concerned about the behaviors in this filing window and raised concerns about the trafficking. The FCC would eventually attempt to stop the bleeding by imposing a cap of 10 future grants per applicant. This cap was substantially challenged. The issue with the translator cap was raised in the enactment of the Local Community Radio Act, in which Congress stated that new FM translator and LPFM licenses need to be made available based on community need. As a result of the legislation, the FCC would impose a new cap of 50 ungranted translators in the top markets and 70 nationwide. It also imposed methodlogy to assure that LPFM opportunities would remain available in the urban markets by limiting translators to only frequencies that would not be available to LPFM stations.
In August, 2022, REC filed the Translator Reform petition for rulemaking. At the time, the FCC never acted on it. In a recent open letter from REC to the Media Bureau, the Commissioners and the Office of the Managing Director, we touched on the issue of this petition remaining dormant for nearly a year. Several days later, the petition has been placed on Public Notice and was assigned RM-11952.
With the next filing window for secondary services now confirmed to be for LPFM come this November, it only seems logical that the filing window that would follow would be for new FM translators. The last general FM translator filing window was the 2003 with Auction 83. There was also a translator filing window in 2009 and 2010 with Auctions 99 and 100, which was restricted to new FM translators that would rebroadcast AM stations. Since the 1993 decision in Bechtel v. FCC in the D.C. Circuit Court, a decision which declared the use of comparative reviews to settle mutual exclusivity to be unconstitutional, thus resulting in the modern day point system which is used for settling noncommercial applications, there has never been a filing window for new FM translators in the 88.1~91.9 MHz reserved band.
REC filed this petition in order for the FCC to prepare for the next FM translator window, which may not be for another few years from now. The Translator Reform Petition for Rulemaking addresses the many "lessons learned" from the 2003 Auction 83 window aftermath as well as proposing to address the modern role of fill-in translators for the purpose of the FM reserved band. The petition also cleans up some redundant language and offer some slight new flexibilities for FM translators commonly owned by LPFM stations, especially considering that LPFM stations will finally be able to partake in a translator filing window. The first real opportunity since the creation of the LPFM service.
Under the full proposal, REC's Translator Reform proposes to accomplish the following:
Trafficking and massive filings
Propose safeguards for future FM Translator filing windows to prevent the level of construction permit trafficking and gamesmanship that followed the 2003 Auction 83 FM Translator filing window:
- Propose restrictions on unbuilt FM Translator construction permits to limit consideration to legitmate and prudent values.
- Propose to require the disclosure of parties to a new FM translator application and to disclose attributable interests.
- Propose a nationwide cap of 70 applications (no more than 50 in the Top-150) markets for new FM translator application filings in the non-reserved band (92.1~107.9) and a scaled down limit for the reserved band (88.1~91.9) and to apply the cap to all parties of an application.
- Propose to place a condition on all new FM Translator construction permits issued noncommercially without filing fees to remain noncommercial for the first four years of licensed operations.
Assuring that the LCRA will be followed in future filing windows
Make recommendations to assure that Section 5 of the Local Community Radio Act of 2010 (LCRA) is followed by assuring that future LPFM opportunities (even after the next LPFM filing window) are protected in the core area of spectrum limited markets.
Hold the first reserved band translator window since Bechtel
Recommend that the next FM Translator filing window be for noncommercial educational applicants on the reserved band channels, marking the first ever opportunity for LPFM licensees to apply for FM translators and the first opportunity for new reserved band FM translators in this millennium.
Recommend that the filing window for new reserved band FM Translators be followed up by an auction window for new FM Translator stations in the non-reserved band.
Assure that NCE priority for fill-in translators is used for its original intended purpose
Limits the special rule exceptions and selection priority for all new fill-in FM translators in the reserved band to areas where the primary station is the first or second educational service.
Modify the translator rules as they apply to LPFM stations
Make minor changes to the point system and tie-breaker rules to accommodate LPFM licensees applying for new FM translator stations.
Propose to change some aspects of the LPFM/translator/booster cross-ownership rules and repeal others, to reflect changing industry trends, the actual use of these stations and to eliminate unnecessary and redundant regulations:
- Eliminate the LPFM to FM translator contour overlap requirement.
- Permit LPFM stations to "daisy chain" their two (four, if Tribal) translators if necessary.
- Replace the current 10-and-20-mile market-dependent distance restrictions on the siting of FM translators with a nationwide 25-mile limit consistent with translator rules and to provide additional considerations for government and tribal organizations.
- Remove redundant language in Part 73 related to FM boosters for LPFM stations that is already codified in Part 74.
What Translator Reform will NOT do
- It will not impose any “per market” application caps in the next FM translator filing windows due to the other extensive anti-trafficking rules already being proposed.
- It will not propose any rules that would make LPFM stations primary to existing FM translator stations as such arrangements are prohibited by the LCRA.
- It will not impose any new overall ownership caps on FM translator stations.
- It will not allow LPFM stations to use alternate means to deliver programming to a non-fill in FM translator.
- It will not allow LPFM stations to create large regional or national translator networks.
- It will not make any changes to current or future fill-in FM translators in the non-reserved band or reduce the spectrum rights of existing fill-in FM translators in the reserved band.
- It will not increase the number of FM translators and/or FM boosters an LPFM station is allowed to own.
- It will not make any major changes to the point system for full-service NCE filing windows.
- It will not change the localism qualifications for the ownership of LPFM stations.
- It will not directly impact the pending proceedings in MB Docket 03-185 (related to FM to TV6 protections) and MB Docket 20-401 (geo-targeted FM boosters)
- It will not delay the start of the next LPFM filing window.
Comments may be filed in RM-11952 until July 26, 2023, in the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System. (Use proceeding RM-11952)
REC's website for the Translator Reform project is
Read the text of the Petition for Rulemaking at:
The Channel Points tool can be found at this URL:
NOTE: Due to the upcoming FCC window and consistent with REC pre-window policy, we are suppressing the available channel numbers for potential LPFM stations. Those needing information on LPFM availability can go to lpfm.app and enter into a client relationship with REC. An unfiltered version of the Channel Points Tool is available for viewing by FCC Staff and bona-fide members of the trade media. Please contact REC Networks for details.
Michelle Bradley, CBT