The FCC has sent a strong signal that at its February 23 open meeting it will adopt a proposal to ease FM translator siting restrictions for AM owners. As part of an experiment to increase transparency in the agency’s rulemaking process, new Chairman Ajit Pai, long a fan of radio, publicly released a draft decision being circulated among his fellow Commissioners.
The draft, labeled 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 wants to act on this proposal “expeditiously.” Action on other AM revitalization proposals will come later.
Currently 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 standard was too restrictive. Some said the current standard disadvantages 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 had proposed changing the standard to the greater of either the 2 mV/m daytime contour or a 25-mile radius centered at the AM transmitter site, but with the limitation that the translator’s 1 mV/m coverage contour may not extend beyond a 40-mile (64 km) radius centered at the AM transmitter site. The Commission had said this arrangement would provide “sufficient flexibility to provide useful signal coverage, while not allowing a cross-service fill-in translator to extend the station’s coverage beyond its core service area.”
Commenters “overwhelmingly” supported relaxing the current siting rule. Some argued for increasing the 40-mile limit or dropping the limit entirely. Most of those who wanted to drop the mileage cap 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,” according to the draft 2nd R&O.
Through the release of the 2nd R&O, the Commission has indicated it will adopt its original proposal with one important change: it agrees that the 40-mile cap may be too restrictive in some cases. So it’s dropping the limit entirely. Some commenters had argued that dropping the limit would mean those AMs could 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? Apparently on February 23 the Commission will amend section 74.1201(g) of the rules so that 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.
When adopted, 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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