If you’ve got a pending community-of-license application pending for an AM or FM station, you may be hearing from the FCC shortly

Last March (as we reported back then) the Commission took aggressive steps to stem the flow of radio stations away from rural areas and into urban areas. A central aspect of that action was a set of modified priorities by which the acceptability of proposed community-of-license changes by AM and FM applicants is to be assessed. The new priorities are to be applied to proposals for new and modified AM and FM facilities already in the pipeline as of the new policy’s adoption back in March, as well as all further such proposals (one exception: the new priorities won’t be applied to any still-pending new/major change AM applications filed during the Auction 84 window in 2006). In our earlier post we spelled out the details of the new priorities, including the overriding “Presumption” of service that serves as a cornerstone to the new approach. 

As we have reported since last March, the precise effective date of the new priorities has been a bit hazy. (Check out our follow-up posts here and here and here.) But never fear, the haze has now lifted.  The new priorities – complete with required certifications – have all formally taken effect as of July 19, 2011. This is thanks to (a) prompt and favorable review by OMB relative to the new allotment drill, and (b) publication of a Federal Register notice announcing OMB’s blessing.

The official effectiveness of the new priorities and related Presumption/certification requirements means that the Commission’s staff is now free to require pending applicants to demonstrate that they comply with the priorities and Presumption. Since the staff has been working with the new policies for some time already (hey, they’re the ones who cooked up the new priorities in the first place), the staff has a pretty good idea of which pending applications comply and which don’t – and we’re guessing that lots of those applications don’t. 

We understand that pending applicants may expect to receive “deficiency letters” in the not-too-distant future. These billets doux from the staff will be directed to any applicant whose currently pending showing fails to establish that the proposed change in community of license satisfies the new priorities. We’re guessing that the deficiency letter will afford the applicant an opportunity to demonstrate that its proposal does comply with the new allotment approach. Failure to make that showing will result in the dismissal of the application.

One other aspect of the new allotment priorities – creating a “tribal preference” designed to increase the number of radio stations owned by Native American tribes – has also now taken effect. That preference, though, is likely to have a greater impact on future applications than on many (if any) applications already in the pipeline.