The FCC yesterday issued a public notice extending the time for comments on a Petition for Rulemaking seeking, among other things, to create a Class C4 FM station with maximum power levels at about 12 kW, twice the power of the least powerful class of FM stations – Class A stations that are limited to 6 kW in power.  As we wrote earlier this month when we first addressed this topic, this request for comments is only a preliminary request seeking input as to whether the Commission should even consider this petition further.  Depending on the comments received, the Commission could do nothing at all, or they could adopt a formal notice of proposed rulemaking looking to adopt specific rules for the new service.  Comments on the proposal are now due on September 18, 2014, with reply comments to be filed by October 3.

What does this proposal request?  As stated above, the principal request is that a new FM class of station – a Class C4 – be adopted.  This class would allow Class A stations to approximately double their power to a maximum of 12 kW.  The petitioner points out that the current differences between the classes of FM stations is approximately 3 dB between all classes of FM stations, except for the difference between the current Class A and C3 classes, where the difference in signal intensity is about twice that amount.  Adding the C4 class would make the increases in power between the classes more uniform, and would allow many Class A stations to reach more people and to better penetrate buildings in urban areas.  Why aren’t all broadcasters in favor of this proposal?

Some broadcasters are concerned about this proposal as it could preclude some other upgrade opportunities for stations using the current classes of service.  But it would also potentially impinge on the service areas of many FM translators and LPFM stations.  In fact, the extension granted yesterday was granted at the request of a company usually involved with LPFM applicants, who needed more time to consider this proposal and prepare its comments.

But translators, too, have become very important, both to AM stations looking to survive, and to FM operators to fill in gaps in their service and to rebroadcast HD signals.  Recognizing that the opposition of groups holding translators might be the source of much of the opposition to the proposal, the proponent has just added a new wrinkle to its proposal, suggesting that full-power stations only be protected to their actual 1 mV/m protected service contour, and not against interference by translators to full-power stations outside of their protected contour.  Currently, full-power stations can force a translator to leave the air if there is interference caused by the translator to any regularly used signal – even if that signal is far beyond the station’s protected service area.  The proposal also suggests that translators only be subject to interference complaints for the first year of their operations.  These proposals seem to be an attempt to reassure translator operators that, if C4s become a reality, there might still be room for new translators.  But, for existing translators that might be knocked off the air by a new C4, the only remedy would be to find a new channel (which the proponent helpfully suggests should be on any available channel – not just one that is adjacent to the current channel used by the translator). 

The final proposal contained in this rulemaking request is one that would provide a process where stations that are not operating at full facilities for their class be considered to be operating under Section 73.215, meaning that the stations would be protected only to their actual protected contour, not to the full mileage separations provided under the rules.  The intent of the proposal would be to lessen the protection of some existing stations, so that others could upgrade.  The proposal is suggested to work in the manner that Class C stations can currently be reclassified as Class C0 stations when they are not maximizing the height of their tower.  Basically, an applicant seeking to upgrade, who is blocked by another station not operating at maximum facilities, would file an application that protects the less-than-maximum station only to its 1 mv/m contour, and serve a copy of that application on the other station seeking to reclassify it as a station protected only under 73.215, not to their full mileage separation protections.  The station owner who has not maximized its facilities, who receives such a notice from a broadcaster seeking to upgrade, would have a given period of time to upgrade to the maximum facilities for the class of its FM station and, if it failed to do so, it would be considered to have accepted 73.215 status and thereafter only be protected to its protected contour – theoretically facing the loss of some fringe service that might now be protected from interference.    

These are all complicated technical questions, and FM owners should carefully consider where their interests lie.  Will this proposal help, or will it potentially hurt some aspect of their business?  Consult with your engineers and determine where your interests lie.  Once that calculation has been made, comments can be filed by the new deadlines set today letting the Commission know what you think it should do with this proposal.