The Spring Cleaning bug has hit the folks in the Audio Division. They have unceremoniously dumped out at the curb nearly 300 applications for FM translators on reserved (noncommercial educational) channels that were filed ten or more years ago. The discarded applications – like disco suits or eight-track tapes you might find in some closet or file cabinet you haven’t looked in lately – have been overtaken by intervening trends, most importantly the current fascination for all things LPFM.
Of course, if you happen to be one of the applicants being shown the door, you might wonder how it is exactly that the Commission could invite you to file, then sit on your application for a decade, and then toss it out without so much as a “so sorry”. After all, it took time and money for the applicants – all noncommercial entities, most of them religious – to prepare the applications, and they all presumably had plans to use the proposed stations to bring new service to listeners. The summary dump of their applications seems more than a little harsh.
The applications in question – you can view a complete list here – were filed back in 2000 (a small handful go back a year or two further). They got iced in when the Commission imposed a freeze on NCE-band translator applications in April, 2000, in connection with the transition to the then-“new” NCE comparative process. Because of the freeze, the applications never got accepted or “cut-off”, leaving them pretty much nowhere for a decade.
In the meantime, LPFM managed to plant itself in the regulatory consciousness and gradually metastasize, eventually eclipsing any luster that translators (which operate on the same channels as LPFM) might once have had. And then there was the 2007 open window for full-service FM stations in the NCE band, which distracted the FCC’s staff and sucked up more spectrum that might otherwise have been available for translators. With all that going on, there was no incentive for anybody at the Commission to look in that back closet and think about doing anything with the vintage 2000 applications languishing there.
And now, ten years down the line, the Commission figures that it’s just too late to try to worry about them. So out they go.
Not to worry, though, if you happen to be one of the now-dismissed applicants. The Commission promises that the welcome mat will be out for you to refile the next time that there’s an NCE translator filing window open. When might that be? The staff reminds us that the Commission has said that “[t]he next filing window for a non-tabled aural broadcast service will be for new LPFM stations”. Also, let’s not forget the “numerous primary service licensing initiatives” which the Commission has already committed to complete. Bottom line: “the Bureau anticipates that it will not open a reserved band FM translator window for several years”.
So applicants who had been waiting for ten years will now have to wait at least “several” more, by which time who knows how much of the once-available NCE-FM spectrum will have been dealt off to LPFM applicants. While this may be the path of least resistance for the Commission, and a convenient way for it to balance the various conflicting demands on its time and resources, it’s still unsettling to realize that, while you were standing in line for ten years, nobody bothered to tell you that you were in the wrong queue.