As anticipated, the FCC adopted at its February 23 meeting a rule change to ease FM translator siting restrictions for AM owners. (The FCC signaled previously that such a change was forthcoming by releasing a draft decision three weeks before the meeting at which the item was voted upon. That release was part of an experiment to increase transparency in the agency’s rulemaking process led by new Chairman Ajit Pai.) The rule change, enacted through the “Second Report and Order” (2nd R&O) in the AM revitalization docket, concerns only where an FM translator used as an AM fill-in may be located. The Commission states in the document the agency has now opened and closed two filing windows in which more than 1,000 applications were granted so AM owners could acquire and move FM translators to increase their signal coverage. Because of the strong need for siting flexibility, the FCC acted on this proposal now. Action on other AM revitalization proposals will come later.
Under the previous rule, an FM translator rebroadcasting an AM station must be sited so that the 60 dBμ contour of the FM translator is contained within both (a) the 2 millivolts per meter (mV/m) daytime contour of the AM and (b) a 25-mile radius centered at the AM transmitter site.
Many stations and engineering consultants told the FCC that the old rule was too restrictive. Some said the previous standard disadvantaged AM stations employing directional signals with deep signal nulls, resulting in a 2 mV/m contour extending only a short distance from the transmitter site. Others argued that the current limitations made it difficult for AM stations whose transmitters are located far from their communities of license, because of high real estate costs, to site translators so they can serve their communities of license.
Taking all of these views into account, the FCC has changed the standard to the greater of either the 2 mV/m daytime contour or a 25-mile radius centered at the AM transmitter site.
Significantly, the FCC dropped an accompanying proposal that would have prohibited the translator’s 1 mV/m coverage contour from extending beyond a 40-mile (64 km) radius centered at the AM transmitter site, even if the AM station’s 2.0 mv/m contour stretched past the 40-mile barrier.
In declining to adopt the 40-mile limit, the Commission took note of commenters who cited instances in which “substantial covered populations lie within an AM station’s 2 mV/m daytime contour but more than 40 miles from the station’s transmitter.” The Commission rejected the argument that dropping the limit would allow some AMs to unfairly extend their core service area. The FCC disagreed, saying it already held that the 2 mV/m contour in all cases constitutes an AM station’s primary service area.
The upshot? Section 74.1201(g) of the rules has been changed so that, when the new rule goes into effect, an FM translator rebroadcasting an AM station must be located so that the 60 dBμ contour of the FM translator is contained within the greater of either (a) the 2 mV/m daytime contour of the AM station – no matter how far that contour falls from the transmitter site — or (b) a 25-mile radius centered at the AM station’s transmitter site – even if the translator’s 60 dBμ contour is not within the AM station’s 2.0 mv/m contour.
The new rule will not go into effect immediately. First, it must go to the Office of Management and Budget for review under the Paperwork Reduction Act. Then, after OMB approval, the FCC will announce the effective date in Federal Register notice.
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