A group of 24 radio broadcast licensees has petitioned the FCC to expand the concept of localized program content beyond FM boosters and to allow localized origination by FM translators as well.
On April 24, 2012, and April 13, 2020, we blogged about a proposal by GeoBroadcast Solutions, LLC, (“GeoBroadcast”) to allow FM radio stations to operate on-channel boosters that do not entirely duplicate the content of the main station. Each booster could broadcast local content intended for just the specific portion of the main station’s service area where the booster is located. The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) invited comments on the proposal, which were due May 4, 2020.
On that date, a consortium calling itself “Broadcasters for Limited Program Origination” (“BLPO”) filed comments supporting the GeoBroadcast Solutions petition but asking that the localized content concept be expanded to include FM translators. While FM boosters and translators both rebroadcast the signal of a full power parent FM, and translators may rebroadcast an AM station, boosters operate on the same frequency as their FM parent, while translators operate on separate FM frequencies. GeoBroadcast wants both booster and translators to be able to broadcast content separate from the content of the parent station.
GeoBroadcast also asks that the separate content on both boosters and translators not be limited to promotions, hyper-localized programming, or advertising but rather that there be no restrictions on separate content. Moreover, boosters and translators would be required to rebroadcast the content of their parent station only 40 out of the 168 hours in each week.
Relying on the recent new FM interference rules that allow complaining FM stations to protect service out to their 45 dBμ contour and rules that permit AM stations to locate translators up to 25 miles from their transmitter, BLPO would allow all licensee-owned translators to operate at the greater of the two distances, thus expanding the area that licensee-owned and supported commercial translators are now permitted to serve. Finally, BLPO proposes that FM translators originating separate content be permitted to apply for their own four-letter call signs with the suffix “-FX”
The BLPO proposal offers significant opportunities for AM and FM stations to compete with hyper-local targeted streaming services. However, Low Power FM (“LPFM”) stations, which use similar technology but are currently restricted to a lower power level than FM translators, may conclude that allowing FM translators to originate separate programming and to have their own call signs will subject LPFM to an unfair disadvantage, especially since all LPFM stations are prohibited from broadcasting commercials, while FM translators in the commercial FM band (92.1-107.9 MHz) have no such restriction. Full power FM stations may also fear the additional proliferation of FM translators, which have generated a significant number of interference complaints.
The fact that the FCC has assigned a separate file number to the BLPO request suggests that it may plan to address FM booster origination separately and deal with translator origination later. The FM booster proposal is likely to generate less opposition than the translator proposal, so splitting the two might allow more prompt action with respect to boosters.
Comments on the BLPO proposal may be filed by July 23, 2020. These will be only initial comments in response to the BLPO petition. A formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, with a new comment opportunity, will be required before final rules can be adopted.