REC files Petition for Rulemaking to call for reforms in future translator filing windows
For immediate release.
REC Networks has filed a Petition for Rulemaking with the Federal Communications Commission to propose various rule changes related to future FM translator stations. While we wait for what will likely be an LPFM filing window as early as 2023, the next logical step for secondary services will be an opportunity for new and major change FM translator stations for general applicants. The last opportunities for new FM translators were in 2017 and 2018, but those windows were limited to certain AM broadcast stations and each station was limited to only one application in the window series. The last general FM translator filing window was in 2003 for new FM translators in the non-reserved band (92.1~107.9 MHz) with hopes that many of these applications would go to auction. This window would be later known as The Great Translator Invasion because it was highlighted by over 13,000 applications being filed, including a large number of applications filed by a couple of entities, both of which were commonly owned. Those applications were filed as noncommercial so filing fees were not normally paid and once the applications were granted, they were immediately sold. The commonly owned entities profited in the millions as a result of the sale of their unbuilt authorizations. In the aftermath of that window, the FCC temporarily stopped granting the applications and eventually imposed an application cap of 10 ungranted application that each applicant could prosecute. This 10-cap was challenged. In 2011 with the enactment of the Local Community Radio Act, the FCC would resume processing, but with a cap of 70 applications (50 in the top-150 markets) and a cap of up to three per market. As a result of the LCRA, the FCC put in additional controls to prevent the preclusion of future LPFM opportunities in the core areas of the Top-150 markets plus several smaller markets that had at least 4 pending translator applications. By the time the auction came 12 years later, only a small number of mutually exclusive applications remained and the auction netted just over a half million dollars and some construction permits were never bidded on.
In the reserved band (88.1~91.9), the FCC has not held a filing window for new FM translators since the turn of the century and since the FCC had put in the modern point system for determining mutually exclusive noncommercial applications as such applications are statutorily banned from being settled through auction. In 2012, LPFM stations were permitted also hold authorizations for FM translators and while there are less than a dozen commonly owned translators that LPFM licensees obtained through assignments of license, LPFM licensees have never had a translator filing window for either band. There are also approximately 50+ FM translators that are rebroadcasting LPFM stations that are not commonly owned by the LPFM licensee. For LPFM licensees, they are limited to two commonly owned translators, are very restricted on the placement of those translators and must feed their translator programming over the air.
The REC petition addresses these issues in order to spark discussion both inside and outside of the FCC to prepare for future FM translator windows, in which the soonest could be as early as 2025 or 2026. In this petition, REC made the following proposals:
To prevent the filing abuses and subsequent trafficking of unbuilt construction permits in future windows, REC asked the FCC to add the FM translator service to existing rules that apply to other broadcast services, including TV translator stations that limit the money paid for the sale of an unbuilt construction permit to a legitimate and prudent amount necessary to compensate for the resources used to file the application. The current rules exempt FM translator and booster stations because they do not originate their own programming.
To prevent massive filing, REC proposed that in the non-reserved band, FM translator windows should have a nationwide application cap of 70 applications of which, no more than 50 can be located in the Nielsen Audio top-150 metro market counties. This cap was similar to the one put in place following the 2003 Great Translator Invasion. Most filers in the 2003 window had less than 50 applications. For a reserved-band window, which only has one quarter of the channels the non-reserved band, REC is calling for a fractional application cap of 18 nationwide and no more than 13 within the top-150 markets. By comparison, the cap for the 2007 and 2021 full-service NCE FM windows for the same amount of spectrum was 10 applications nationwide and without regard to market.
Closing the NCE loophole
REC also proposes for new translators applied for and granted as noncommercial educational (NCE), that a condition is placed on the construction permit and license that restricts that station to only rebroadcasting NCE stations for the first four years of licensed operation. The need for this was sparked by the actions of some nonprofit organizations who obtained NCE translator grants in the non reserved band and then leased them to commercial broadcasters, usually for the simulcast of HD multicast streams not normally received on an analog radio.
Protecting LPFM opportunities
REC reminded the FCC that the Local Community Radio Act was still in full force. The LCRA calls for licenses to be available for both LPFM and FM translator stations. Following the passage of the LCRA, the FCC put in place a system that focused on an area immediately surrounding the main urban core of each market and then based on the number of potential LPFM opportunities within this "grid" area, would classify a market as "spectrum limited" or "spectrum available". FM translator proposals in and near spectrum limited markets had to protect "channel points" where LPFM stations may be available in the future.
REC proposes to bring back the grids but to simplify the methods used to determine whether a market is spectrum limited or spectrum available. Instead of using what the FCC called "channel floors", a designated number of LPFM opportunities, tiered by market size, REC proposes to use what they call a "disparity factor", which assigns scores, based on the footprint of the LPFM or translator station and other factors. In markets where LPFM has a disparity, they are considered spectrum limited and FM translator proposals will be required to protect LPFM channel points inside fo the grid. In markets where FM translators have the disparity, the market is considered spectrum available and channel point protections by FM translators is not required.
While this availability will change after the next LPFM window, a current view of the LPFM channel points and counts of FM translator stations, LPFM stations, potential LPFM opportunities and the disparity factor point calculations can be found at https://recnet.com/channel-points.
Reserved band fill-in translators
Fill-in translators were originally intended to be used by FM broadcasters in order to provide service within their service contour into areas that the primary station may not reach due to intervening terrain or other reasons. Unlike non fill-in translators, these fill-in translators are allowed to operate up to 250 watts at any height above average terrain while non fill-in translators are limited in their coverage areas which essentially allow them to operate a service contour of about 7.3 kilometers in areas east of the Mississippi River and in most of California while in other parts of the country, these translators can effectively have a 13.3 kilometer service contour. In the (commercial) non-reserved band, fill-in translators are commonly used these days for rebroadcasting AM stations and for the simulcasts of HD stations.
Because of their original purpose of filling holes in coverage, new fill-in translator stations in the reserved band are given the highest priority for selection in the event of mutually exclusive applications. This priority was developed decades before fill-in translators could be used to rebroadcast AM stations and just as long before HD Radio was ever conceived. Because of these many new modern uses for fill-in translators, REC opposes the current selection priority rules for the reserved band (as well as the privilege to propose a much larger facility) in situations where fill-in translators are not being used for their original purpose, to fill in holes and provide educational broadcasting services.
REC proposed a change to the fill-in rule for new and major change applications in the reserved band. Our proposal calls for a new or major change translator in the reserved band only being able to be designated as a "fill-in" with the additional height allowances as well as the selection priority if it can be shown that the translator is commonly owned by the primary station it is going to carry and that in the service area (60 dBu contour) of the proposed FM translator, there are no more than two educational services (one of which would be the primary station the translator would be carrying) at any location within that translator contour. This change will acknowledge the modern uses of fill-in facilities and assure broadcast diversity in more well served areas while enhancing the Commission’s mandate to provide fair distribution of educational services to as much of the country as possible.
REC proposes no changes to new fill-in translators in the non-reserved band nor does REC propose any changes to any existing fill-in FM translators unless they file a major change in the reserved band.
A reserved band window should be after LPFM
REC is calling on the FCC that after the next LPFM window, expected in 2023, that the next filing window should be limited to noncommercial applicants in the reserved band and utilizing all of the proposals made. This will give noncommercial applicants their first bite of the reserved band spectrum apple in this century and will be LPFM's first chance in an environment that is free of auctions. Following the reserved band window, the FCC can open a general window for the non-reserved band and again, with the ground rules listed in the petition.
Proposed changes to LPFM translator and booster ownership rules
Currently, a translator or booster commonly owned by an LPFM station must be within 20 miles of the LPFM station except in Top-50 markets where it must be within 10 miles. The LPFM translator's 60 dBu service contour must have some overlap with the main LPFM station and LPFM owned translators must receive their programming source directly from the LPFM transmitter and not from another translator.
REC proposes to modify the LPFM cross-ownership rule to permit LPFM commonly owned translators to be located no more than 25 miles from the organization's headquarters, a campus or 75% of the board members. Government licenses may place a translator anywhere in their jurisdiction and tribal entities may place their translator anywhere on tribal lands. The 25 mile distance is consistent with the noncommercial rules that grants 3 points for an established local applicant. Despite these longer distances, LPFM translators except for fill-in translators must be fed directly from the LPFM station or as proposed by REC, from another translator. Fill in translators will be fairly rare in most of the country. REC also proposes to remove the contour overlap requirement as an unnecessary rule as it does not reflect the methods of existing non commonly-owned LPFM translators.
REC proposes to continue to permit LPFM stations to operate boosters but to remove some of the LPFM specific rules in Part 73. Specifically, REC proposes to remove the maximum distance rule for the placement of boosters since the location of boosters are naturally controlled by the requirement for the booster's service contour to remain confined inside of the LPFM station's main service contour. REC proposes to also remove some redundant rule language for boosters in Part 73, which are duplicated in Part 74. In 2020, at the urging of REC, LPFM stations, mainly those with larger service contours due to unusual terrain were permitted to use FM boosters to fill in areas of the service contour that were otherwise precluded by terrain obstructions.
The FCC can review the Petition for Rulemaking and then decide to issue an "RM" number. If an RM number is assigned, a Public Notice will be released and the Petition will be open for public comment. If the FCC accepts it even further, then they can move it forward to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking at a later date.
A copy of the Petition can be found at:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) (from an appendix of the Petition):
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REC Networks is a leading advocate for a diverse dial focusing on community broadcasting and a citizens ability to access spectrum. Our primary focuses are on noncommercial educational radio including low power FM (LPFM) and full-service/full-power FM radio. We also focus on various issues both inside and outside of the broadcast services that impact the quality of life in rural areas and to assure broadcast diversity and access, especially to underserved sectors of our overall community. REC also operates an extensive data store of broadcast data through the websites https://fcc.today and https://fccdata.org as well as operates the eLMS infrastructure that indpendently observes the status and details of applications and actions in the broadcasting service.
REC also operates J1 Radio, four channels of Japanese music entertainment, available at https://j1fm.tokyo. REC also operates J1HD, the only full-time Japanese language music station on terrestrial radio in the United States. J1HD is heard on the western facing beaches of the Los Angeles area via KBUU-LP Malibu, CA on 99.1 HD3 or at the website https://j1hd.com. All J1 channels can be heard using the official J1 Radio mobile app available for Android and iOS as well as on Roku, TuneIn and Alexa.
REC Networks can be found online at https://recnet.com.
Michelle Bradley, CBT