April 2013 Translator Update

The FCC has announced a tentative date of October 15, 2013 for a low power radio filing window, when the agency accepts applications for new stations. Why is it a tentative date? There are a few more steps remaining before the FCC can take applications. Here's a rundown of what's left.

The Continuing Translator Saga

To make room on the dial for community radio, the FCC must first clear out a longstanding backlog of pending applications for FM translators, also called repeater stations.  

Last year, the FCC set new rules to handle the thousands of pending applications for translators, and this year, the rules have finally been set in motion. In February, the FCC dismissed over three thousand pending translator applications that did not comply with new national and market ownership limits.

On March 28, the FCC began processing those translator applications which have no competing applicants for the same channel, mostly in rural areas. In April, the FCC will begin to evaluate which urban translator applications can move forward without blocking future opportunities for low power radio.

Once the FCC has gotten rid of all the translator applications that don't comply with the new rules, the remaining applicants competing for a given channel will go to auction. With the rest of the translator applications cleared away, more channels will be free for community radio, opening the way for a low power FM filing window.

Petitions for Reconsideration

At the end of last year, the FCC released new rules implementing the Local Community Radio Act. As part of the rulemaking process, members of the public had a specific period in which they could formally petition the FCC to reconsider the new rules. In February, several groups filed these Petitions for Reconsideration. Fortunately, most of the petitions were filed by low power radio advocates seeking to improve the rules, rather than incumbent broadcasters hoping to challenge the new gains made by community radio.

Prometheus, REC Networks and other low power advocates filed petitions asking the FCC to address relatively minor technical issues with the rules. Prometheus mainly raised concerns about the new rules low power stations must follow when protecting the input signals of FM translators. One group asked the FCC to reconsider its decision to cancel the ten watt low power FM service, particularly in urban areas where there is little room for 100 watt stations. And a group of noncommercial broadcast attorneys asked the FCC to tighten its application procedures for low power radio.

A national religious network, LifeTalk Radio, asked the FCC to allow unincorporated chapters of national organizations to apply for low power stations (chapters of national organizations can already apply, as long as they are separately incorporated and have a distinct local mission). LifeTalk also asked the FCC to consider chapters of national organizations to be new broadcasters, even if the national organization already owns radio stations. (The FCC awards an extra credit "preference point" to applicants who have no other radio stations. Generally speaking, most organizations with other radio stations are ineligible to apply for low power radio anyway, so chapters of national organizations are among the few groups who cannot receive this point.)

The next phase of the rulemaking process allowed members of the public to formally oppose these petitions, and Prometheus formally opposed the LifeTalk requests. We are concerned that their proposals would make it easier for national organizations to apply for and control low power stations, which are supposed to be local. NPR and other translator owners opposed portions of the Prometheus petition, and Prometheus recently filed a response to these oppositions.

Now that all this filing is complete, the FCC will examine the record and decide whether to modify any of the rules. Fortunately, since most of petitions were relatively minor, we don't think the FCC will need to slow down its schedule to address them.

Getting Ready

We will continue to update you as the FCC prepares to accept applications for new low power stations for the first time in more than a decade. Are you ready? If your organization is thinking of applying for a station, be sure to fill out an organizational profile at prometheusradio.org/applicantsupport to get all the updates and support from Prometheus.