REC to FCC: Class C4 must have minimal impacts to LPFM, §73.215 proposal devastating to LPFM and AM Revitalization

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REC Networks has filed comments today in MB Docket 18-184, the FCC's Notice of Inquiry based on the SSR Communications petition that would create a new FM service class C4 (12 kW at 100m HAAT, available only in FM Zone II) and would make a change to §73.215 to allow an applicant station to be able to use contours in addition to distance separation in order for the applicant station to upgrade service class (i.e. from Class A to C4).  Currently, when invoking §73.215 on a station that is not requested the rule invoked to benefit them in the past, the height and power of the station is artificially increased to a full reference facility for that service class, even if operating at that service class is not physically feasible.  

In reports custom designed for this proceeding, REC has determined that the impact to LPFM stations will be minimal to marginal.  The Class A to C4 upgrade aspect of the proposal will result in additional noise floor to about 130 LPFM stations.  That number can be substantially reduced due to the fact that some Class A stations are not running at or near full facilities (6 kW at 100m HAAT) because of various reasons including geographic location, market need, economics and international issues.  In many situations, upgrading to C4 would require the station obtaining a directional antenna, which for some owners is a very expensive proposition.  

To reduce the impact to LPFM channel availability, REC has asked that if C4 is implemented that the §73.807(a) co-channel and first-adjacent channel minimum distance spacing from LPFM stations to Class C4 stations be the same as the values for LPFM to Class A.  Currently, LPFM minimum distance separations to full-service stations are written with an artificial 20 kilometer "buffer zone" thus causing a substantial overprotection.  The FCC has already determined that the buffer zone is an overprotection. Using the method proposed by REC, a 15 kilometer buffer zone between LPFM and C4 will continue to exist.  The Local Community Radio Act prevents the FCC from reducing the minimum distances between LPFM and full-service stations based on the distance tables codified in the rules from when the LCRA was enacted in January, 2011.   In a separate proceeding, RM-11810, REC has proposed an alternate protection regime that uses the reduced LP-10 distances, that were codified when the LCRA was enacted in tandem with contour protection and increased interference scrutiny to provide additional flexibility to existing LPFM stations and open new potential opportunities in the future.  The aspects of RM-11810 are not a part of the MB 18-184 proceeding. 

REC also notes that since FM translators do not have the "buffer zone" like LPFM does, they are even much more prone to interference.  This includes the FM translator permits recently granted in the 2017 Auction 99 and 2018 Auction 100 filing windows for AM Revitalization.

REC has voiced serious concern regarding the FCC's proposal to make changes to §73.215 to allow a station wanting to upgrade to allow a show cause order to be made on an existing station not operating their maximum facilities to be put into "§73.215 status" so a contour/distance hybrid can be used instead of just distance based on maximum facilities.  This would only be allowed if the incumbent station has been at their licensed location for an extended period of time (e.g. over 10 years).  The FCC's proposal in the Notice of Inquiry was more than just a Class A to C4 accommodation but a proposal make the show cause process available to all FM service classes in all zones.  

A study conducted by REC Networks acknowledged that not all FM stations would be able to upgrade to their next highest service class due to contours, directional antenna requirements and community coverage regulations however, to make the §73.215 process available to all station classes and all zones could impact as many as half of all LPFM stations with increased interference and short-spacing thus limiting station flexibility.  During meetings with FCC staff, SSR recommended a "waiver" process that would waive §73.215 in certain situations to accommodate the Class A to C4 upgrades if the proposed facility will not cause interference with LPFM and FM translators.  In comments, REC is willing to accommodate a proposed "waiver" process that is limited to Class A to C4 upgrades, limited to Zone II and for stations that currently serve areas exclusively outside of US Census Bureau designated Urbanized Areas.  This waiver process could provide a small number of deep rural FM stations with relief to bring more choices to underserved areas of our country and to improve building penetration within their current service areas.

Overall, REC states that if the FCC moves forward with creating the new C4 service class, they should also create a 250-watt LPFM service based on the information from RM-11749 and RM-11810.  To the hundreds of FM translators applied for in Zone II, the FCC has dangled a carrot in front of AM broadcasters, some very desperate for relief and the wholesale §73.215 changes and to a point, the C4 upgrade could see the FCC pull that carrot away.

REC's comments will be available on the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System or you can view a copy at:
https://recnet.net/fcc/18-184.pdf

A copy of the raw data used in this proceeding can be found at:
https://recnet.net/fcc/18-184_data.pdf

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About REC Networks:

REC is a leading policy voice supporting a citizen’s ability to access radio spectrum. The advocacy side of REC was responsible for the writing of RM-11749, the 250-watt LPFM proposal and RM-11810, the LPFM improvement petition. Other REC advocacy initiatives include alternate spectrum for community radio expansion in areas where FM spectrum is not available, driving changes to the FCC rules to allow more flexibility for LPFM stations while remaining compliant with the Local Community Radio Act. REC serves all six segments of LPFM including cause-based organizations, public sector agencies, micro radio stations, community media organizations, secular educational organizations and faith-based organizations. REC also provides consulting and filing services for LPFM stations, FM translators (including FM translators related to smaller AM broadcast stations) and full-service FM stations. REC operates several radiocommunications related websites and REC-FM, the official audio stream of REC Networks in conjunction with the Riverton Radio Project. More information about REC is at our website https://recnet.com.