A lucky few, very patient, noncommercial educational (NCE) applicants got an early Christmas present this year: the Commission has reconsidered its Grinch-like 2003 decision to summarily dismiss their applications. But they’re not out of the woods yet.
Historically, NCE applicants could file applications for new stations on commercial (a/k/a “non-reserved”) channels. If mutually exclusive (MX) commercial applicants also filed, the competing applicants would have to duke it out in a hearing. But when the Commission moved to an auction process for doling out new CP’s, things got complicated. Congress had said that NCE applicants would not be subject to auctions, which meant that “mixed” application groups – i.e., MX situations involving both commercial and NCE applicants – could not be resolved through auction. That left a number of MX groups – including applications filed more than 10 years ago – in limbo, as the Commission had no alternate way of picking a winning applicant from a universe of both commercial and NCE applicants. In 2003, the Commission decided that the way to move things along in those proceedings was simply to throw out the NCE applicants, thereby clearing the way for the remaining commercial contenders to slug it out in auctions.
Not surprisingly, a number of the tossed-out NCE folks asked the Commission to give this another think. And after five (count ‘em, five) years of re-thinking, the Commission has now decided that the NCE applicants deserve a break. Accordingly, the Media Bureau staff will be announcing, in the near future, a window period during which the NCE applicants in the 19 or so mixed groups will be given a one-time-only chance to amend their applications “for the sole purpose of applying for a commercial station.” This means that NCE applicants in the affected groups who wish to proceed will have to move forward as if they were commercial applicants – which means that they will have to participate in an auction.
In its decision the Commission did not identify the particular MX groups, although it did say that the 19 or so groups include 13 FM’s, four TV’s and two FM translators. (In order to be included in those groups, the affected NCE applications must have been both filed, and MX with a commercial application, as of April 10, 2003.) Keep an eye out for the Bureau’s public notice of the opening of the window if you think that you may be one of the lucky ones.