At the end of last week, the FCC’s Audio Division released a letter decision denying a Class A FM station licensee (limited in power to 6 KW) a waiver that would have allowed it to upgrade its facilities to those that would be equivalent to what would be permitted if the Commission was to establish a Class C4 FM. The Division found that granting such a waiver would prejudge the FCC’s pending proceeding looking at whether the FCC should approve Class C4 stations. Where does that proceeding stand?

The pending proposal to create a Class C4 FM station, i.e., one operating with maximum effective radiated power of 12 kw (essentially midway between the power limits of the current Class A stations and Class C3 FMs that are limited to 25 kw), has been advocated at the FCC for several years. Sponsors contend that it would allow Class A stations to not only solidify and expand their coverage, but also to overcome some of the building penetration issues that are alleged to occur when reception is limited inside buildings constructed of certain materials. The proposal for this new class of FM station has not been unanimously supported by other broadcasters.

Opposing broadcasters fear more stations will clutter the FM band and potentially knock existing FM translators off the air or preclude new translators for both AM and FM stations. Also, the C4 proposal suggests that certain FM stations that are not operating at their full facilities for the class for which they are licensed should be protected only to their actual contours if they were not ready to commit, upon notice, to upgrading their facilities. Many broadcasters feared that this would unduly limit future changes to the facilities of their stations.

Because of the conflicting opinions of broadcasters, the FCC did not issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking suggesting a set of rules for implementing the Class C4 service. Instead, the FCC only issued a Notice of Inquiry – asking a series of questions about whether they should move forward with the proposal (see our article here). Thus, before the Class C4 FM proposal could be adopted, the FCC would have to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking setting out more definitive proposed rules for the new class of stations. Public comment on that proposal would have to be received before any final decision could be made.

So, any conclusion on Class C4 stations is quite some time in the future. Last week’s decision seems to recognize that the FCC is not ready to decide the C4 question soon. Thus, until a decision is made, broadcasters interested in these upgraded facilities will have to be patient.