January 19, 2007, was the effective date of the FCC's new community of license change rules. These rules compress the processes previously required for requests to change a station's community of license by eliminating the "rule making" step for FM stations and the "major change application" step for AM stations. The FCC's action will greatly reduce the waiting periods involved for radio stations seeking to change their community of license. Importantly, this regulatory relief applies not only to commercial FM and AM licensees, but also to non-commercial educational (NCE) stations.
In order to change community of license, commercial FM stations previously were required to submit a rule making petition and, if successful, a minor change application to implement the rule making. This was a cumbersome and time consuming two-step procedure. The petition was vulnerable to counterproposals and oppositions, and the process often took two to three years to complete. For AM stations, the process was even more time consuming because they could only change community of license during a window period for new and major change applications. This process was burdened with conflicts and often took three to four years to complete. NCE stations have never even had an opportunity to file for a community of license change. Now, however, the community of license change can be accomplished in one step with a minor modification application. Thus, these rule changes will make an enormous difference for most stations that want to change their community of license both in terms of the time involved and by eliminating the risk of conflicting proposals.
Under the new rules, AM and both commercial and non-commercial FM broadcasters are permitted to change their communities of license simply by filing first-come/first-served minor modification applications. Thus, commercial FM broadcasters no longer need to file petitions for rule making, and AM and non-commercial FM broadcasters no longer have to wait for filing windows. Although the applications will require the same public interest policy-related showings as under the former rules and will remain subject to third-party objections, the revisions should reduce the application process for all categories of radio broadcasters from well over a year to several months.
In addition, the rules address the filing procedures for parties seeking to add new allotments to the FM Table of Allotments (or so-called "drop-in allotments"), which will continue to be done by rule making. The FCC, however, added a requirement. At the time they submit petitions for rule making, parties seeking additions to the table now must submit an application for the allotment and pay the accompanying filing fees, which amount to several thousand dollars.
Finally, the new rules impose a public notice requirement on applications to change community of license. This requirement is similar to that imposed on applicants for new stations (i.e. broadcast on-air and publish in a newspaper) but the publication in a local newspaper must now be made in both the current community and the new community. The FCC will also publish each community of license proposal in the Federal Register and will then provide interested parties 60 days (rather than 30 days) from the publication date to file comments.