03-185: REC calls for sunset of Franken FM, major reductions in TV protection by FM and calls for LPFM instead of full-service on 87.9

REC Networks has filed Reply Comments with the FCC on MB Docket 03-185.  This docket is mainly related to the continued operations of Low Power TV (LPTV) stations that insert an analog FM carrier at 87.75 and are marketed as a radio station.  This is sometimes called "FM6" or "Franken FM".  

FM6/Franken FM

REC's position on FM6/Franken FM is while the licensees have been tooting their horn about the "diverse" audio services these stations have been offering on 1/30th of their bandwidth, they remain silent on the other 29/30th.  REC has found that while a couple of the FM6 stations are operating viable video services such as AlmaVision in Miami and U Channel in San Jose, most FM6 LPTVs are running Jewelry TV or France24 (an English language news service similar to NHK WORLD for Japan).   REC argues that most people are not watching low band TV stations over the air due to the propagation characteristics and large antenna requirements, especially in apartments and other multi dwelling units.  

REC's position that the Channel 6 (and Channel 5) spectrum are best suited for FM sound broadcasting, as is the trend that is starting in South America and that eventually, the FM band needs to be extended and primary FM full-service stations should replace the LPTV stations on Channel 6 as part of a nationwide deployment of WIDE-FM.  

For now, REC's position is that the FCC should not codify the FM6 rules can keep allowing these facilities to operate on special temporary authority so every 6 months, the public interest need to keep these stations going can be reevaluated.

FM to TV6 Protection Requirements

Full-service NCE FM stations, LPFM stations and FM translators operating on 88.1 to 91.9 must provide protection to TV channel 6 stations.  The current rules were written in 1985 and were intended to address consumers that owned 1960s and 1970s vintage TV receivers.   In Comments, REC called for the complete elimination of the protection requirements.  In Reply Comments, REC changed position calling for the full elimination of requirements on Channels 203 through 220 (88.5 through 91.9), while maintaining a form of protection on 88.1 and 88.3.

This change in position was as a result of additional research that raised concerns regarding interference from FM stations on 88.1 (especially those running HD) and well as 88.3 and how they would impact DTV stations at the band edge.  

REC offered two different potential plans.  Plan A simply retains the existing rules that are based on analog-era technology to 88.1 and 88.3 only.  Plan B also limits protections to 88.1 and 88.3 only, but it does so in a way that uses the actual digital service contours and protection ratios.  While Plan A would be the easiest for the FCC to implement, Plan B would offer the best protections and most availability to FM and LPFM stations.  In addition to those plans, REC has proposed LPTV stations with FM6 operation will be treated more like radio stations than TV statons.  A level of protection, more consistent with radio has been proposed for LPFM on 88.1 and for FM Translators on both 88.1 and 88.3. 

NPR's Request for full-service FM on 87.9

REC opposed NPR's suggestion for full-service FM stations on 87.9.  Under the NPR plan, any FM station could move to that channel in order to upgrade their facility as long as they meet protections to "all television services".  NPR did not disclose what types of TV services those are but based on previous ex parte presentations by the FM6 proponents, it would suggest that the FM6 folks did meet with NPR.  As a matter of full disclosure, REC Networks also met with NPR on the FM to TV6 issue.  

REC's position is that 87.5, 87.7 and 87.9 would be better suited for secondary LPFM stations as NPR's proposal would either (1) displace LPTV stations on Channel 6, including those that are FM6 operations or (2) invokes a new form of primary service on secondary LPTV stations.  Since REC is proposing service only at the secondary level, no LPTV stations, even the FM6 stations would be displaced.  LPTV modifications would have to protect any LPFM stations on 87.5, 87.7 or 87.9.  REC's position is that this move will increase diversity by adding the number of owners and is better because it will not displace any other broadcast services.  Since no border negotiation is intended, these stations would not be available (at the outset) within 400 km of Canada and 320 km of Mexico.  These LPFM stations will protect other FM stations using the current LPFM rules and will protect TV stations using the international standards for analog into digital protections.