When the Federal Communications Commission meets on June 8, it is slated to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding FM6 stations, commonly referred to as “Franken FMs.” The FCC has released a draft of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that is expected to be adopted at its June 8th meeting. This will be the fifth round of rulemaking regarding FM6 stations. The proposal the Commission is considering would allow existing FM6 stations to continue to operate, but prohibit any new FM6 stations.
FM6 stations refer to channel 6 LPTV stations that provide an analog radio service that typically can be received on a standard FM receiver on about 87.7 MHz.
Since July 13, 2021, when all TV stations (including LPTVs) were required to cease analog video operations, the FCC has allowed certain Channel 6 LPTV stations operating with a digital ATSC 3.0 format to continue providing an analog audio “as an ancillary or supplementary service” pursuant to engineering STAs. Those STAs impose several significant conditions. By the FCC’s count, 13 such stations are currently operational.
The potential proposed rule under consideration by the Commission would effectively codify some of the current restrictions for currently operating FM6 stations and limit Franken FMs to those currently operating pursuant to STAs. The proposed restrictions include:
- The stations must already be operating pursuant to an STA
- The stations must have converted to ATSC 3.0 digital operations
- The stations’ analog radio operations could only be conducted on 87.75 MHz
- The stations may not interfere with any other users
- The station’s programming may not exceed its LPTV coverage area
- TV station must provide at least one stream of synchronized video and audioprogramming on the ATSC 3.0 portion of the spectrum at any time the station is operating
- The stations’ technical facilities may not be modified
- The stations may not be assigned or transferred
These provisions deviate slightly from the current STA restrictions, replacing the current requirement that similar populations be reached with the requirement that the FM6 coverage may not exceed the LPTV’s coverage area. The rule under consideration would not require written reports on compliance as required by the STAs, and replace a requirement that there must be one stream of synchronized audio and video 24/7 to one stream of synchronized audio and video any time the station is operating.
In addition to the above proposal, the Commission also seeks comment on whether to completely eliminate Television 6 (TV6) distance separation rules for Low Power FM radio, NCE FM Radio, Class D FM radio, and FM translator stations operating on the reserved band FM channels 201-220, or to revise and update for the post-digital transition. Proponents of this idea argue that because digital receivers are less vulnerable to FM induced TV6 interference, these rules are no longer necessary. The Commission notes that they have not received reports of interference to either TV or radio stations, but that the lack of reports poses the question of whether these rules are in fact unnecessary or they are just working as intended.
The Commission is also considering the adoption of a plan that would repurpose television channel 6 spectrum (82-88 MHz) for FM services. Instead of using the spectrum currently used by FM6 channels for TV, this spectrum could potentially accommodate up to 30 new FM stations. Proponents of this plan argue that this is a more efficient use of spectrum and that more channels would increase the diversity of programming offered. The Commission is seeking comment on potentially repurposing the channels, and specifically whether these potential new channels should be reserved for NCE stations.
In the proposed rulemaking, the Commission seeks to balance the concerns of a variety of broadcast groups. Among the issues they seek comment on are interference to other stations, efficient use of spectrum, and the preservation of local community programming broadcasted on these FM6 stations. If you have any questions regarding this rulemaking and its impact, contact your Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth attorney.