In a proceeding that has moved at glacial speed, even by FCC standards, the Commission has opened a window to allow noncommercial applicants that are mutually exclusive with certain commercial applicants for FM, FM translator, TV and AM stations, to amend their applications to specify commercial operations by October 30, 2009. Failure to amend by that date will result in the dismissal of the NCE applications. With two exceptions, relating to stations formerly licensed to Michael Rice, the applications subject to amendment all pre-date the Commission’s first broadcast auction in 1999 – the most recently filed of those applications date back to 1997 (you remember – that was the year the Spice Girls rocked us all with Wannabe). The Commission has thoughtfully provided lists of the MX groups – including 13 FM stations, three FM translators, one TV and two AM’s – here and here.

As some may recall, the difficulties that have kept these MX groups of applications pending so long arose when auctions were adopted as the method of picking a winner from among mutually exclusive applicants. The statute authorizing auctions provides that all authorizations for commercial broadcast stations must be auctioned but that noncommercial stations can’t be auctioned. When the auction rules were adopted, however, the Commission already had pending groups of MX applications that included both commercial and noncommercial applicants. What to do?

In 2003, the Commission decided that it would simply dismiss all of the noncommercial applicants that are MX with commercial applicants for the same channel. Then, in its Memorandum Opinion and Third Order on Reconsideration in December, 2008, the Commission decided that it would be too harsh to dismiss the noncommercial applications because of processing changes that had taken place after the applications were filed. Accordingly, the Commission gave noncommercial applicants in that peculiar situation one last chance to amend their applications to specify commercial operation, which would then clear the way for an auction. (Applicants which chose not to so amend were told that their applications would be dismissed.) The Commission directed the Media Bureau to open a window for such amendments. When we blogged about that direction, we indicated that we expected that the Bureau would be moving forward “in the near future” – how were we supposed to know it would take ten months?

In any event, the Bureau has now issued its call for amendments. The only applicants eligible to amend their applications are the noncommercial applicants listed in the 19 remaining MX groups, and the only amendments that will be accepted are those for the sole purpose of specifying commercial operation. No other portion of the application may be amended. Any NCE application that has not been amended by October 30 will be dismissed. After those dismissals, presumably the Commission will move forward with an auction among the surviving applicants. Of course, it remains to be seen how many applicants still care, or even remember that they have an application pending, some 12 to 15 years later.