20-343: REC promotes a 5 cap and census data equity in NCE window

REC Networks has filed comments with the FCC today on their question regarding application caps in the noncommercial educational (NCE) FM Filing Window in 2021. 

The FCC has proposed a cap of 10 applications being filed by any one entity.  In addition, they also proposed a cap of 10 applications where any specific party to an application can appear.  The latter is to prevent people from filing under different organization names.

Citing various reasons, REC told the FCC that the cap for the 2010 window should be 5 applications for both organization and for party. 

REC cites the fact that the upcoming window will be primarily rural in scope, with no viable availability in the top-100 media markets, we need to assure that as many rural applicants can be successful with minimal national influence. 

According to REC, the cap will help reduce the size of groups of mutually exclusive (MX) applications and potentially reduce the number of groups altogether.  Such a reduction will not only mean a better chance for some rural applicants but will also be a reduction on the burden to FCC staff charged with processing the applications.   REC points out that in one case, an MX group reached 58 applicants and covered the entire state of Hawaii.  Due to the reluctance of the FCC to address “secondary grants” (other stations that would otherwise be grantable if lower scoring applicants were removed from consideration), the MX groups would remain large with only one winner, even though there may be room for more winners in the group.

REC also addressed the timing of the upcoming filing window with the end of the 2020 decennial census.  Filing windows like this normally use “census block centroid” data in filing windows.  The data, released once every 10 years by the Bureau of the Census is the most granular count of population in a specific area.  Population counts during the window are used to give priority to applicants who propose facilities that would provide first or second reserved band (88.1~91.9) educational service to a particular area, in accordance with the fair distribution policy pursuant to §307(b) of the Communications Act, as well as used for a technical facility point in the point system.

REC had stated that because the 2020 Census had just completed, it will take time for the Census Bureau to release the 2020 centroid raw data.  Even after the data is released, it may take several weeks before software developers such as V-Soft and RadioSoft (ComStudy 2) make that data available to their users.  REC also warns of “estimated population” products, such as the one provided by V-Soft.  REC took the position that unless the 2020 centroid raw data is made available at least 60 days prior to the public notice announcing an application freeze and filing window, the 2010 data should be used.  REC states that this will assure that all applicants are treated fairly in 307(b) showings and the technical point.

Reply comments are due on November 30, 2020 in MB Docket 20-343.