New FM translator rules set to take effect today should go forward as planned, the National Association of Broadcasters is urging. The NAB is asking the Federal Communications Commission to reject a petition filed by Prometheus Radio which seeks an emergency partial stay and processing freeze which the trade group labels as premature. “Prometheus has not even filed a petition for reconsideration of the rules it seeks to stay, adopted in the Commission’s recent order,” the NAB says. It argues that under Commission rules there must be a pending petition for reconsideration before good cause can be shown for the government to issue a stay. “Unless Prometheus files a petition for reconsideration, there can be no grounds to find good cause to delay the effective date of this rule and to delay the revitalization of AM radio any further,” the NAB says.
The Commission unanimously voted in February to slightly relax the existing tower siting rules that have been seen as too restrictive by many owners. They’ve required an AM station to place a rebroadcasting FM translator either within its daytime service contour or within a 25-mile radius of its transmitter, whichever distance was less. But the new rules set to take effect today would allow the rebroadcasting FM translator to be located anywhere within the AM station’s daytime service contour or anywhere within a 25-mile radius of the transmitter, even if the contour extends farther than 25 miles from the transmitter. The change is essentially designed to give owners more flexibility where a fill-in translator can be located.
The rule change would also open the door to what amounts to a second chance for some AM owners to move a translator up to 250 miles. Similar to the previous two filing windows last year, the distance of a jump notwithstanding, the move will be considered a “minor modification” by the Media Bureau as long as the translator remains within 250 miles of its original location before any moves were made during last year’s windows. In other words it will allow a combination of two separate hops to total up to 250 miles. The new rules however only apply to translators that already made a move last year.
Prometheus Radio last week sought the emergency stay to the rule change and asked the FCC to impose a processing freeze on any translator application that’s based on the revised rules. The low-power radio advocacy organization argued a stay is needed because it and other LPFM groups plan to file a petition for reconsideration in the coming weeks seeking to reverse the relaxation of translator-siting rules. Prometheus is worried that if the FCC races forward with the processing of hundreds, or even thousands of translator applications, it will “cause immediate and irreparable harm” to low-power stations.
“Incumbent LPFM stations will thereafter be severely limited in seeking to relocate within their communities of service because these new FM translators will box in or short-space them,” Prometheus said in a petition. “If, as is frequently the case, LPFM licensees lose their transmitter location and must relocate, they will be forced to shut down or to relocate to a distance that could preclude them from reaching their established community audience.” The group pointed out that the FCC has issued stays in other similar situations such as when it put the 2003 translator-filing window into limbo for several years while it sorted out how to square thousands of translator applications that poured in with the need to protect and grow LPFM radio.
While the NAB’s pushback is built on procedural matters and not the merits of whether the regulations should be revised, the trade group also says it “looks forward” to refuting Prometheus on any factual arguments that its attorneys may raise in a petition for reconsideration – if and when that it is filed. “The entire premise of Prometheus’s petition is too speculative to justify a stay—the fact remains that the Commission’s action may have zero impact on LPFM stations,” it tells the FCC.
Not all LPFM supporters are backing the freeze however. LPFM advocate REC Networks says the FCC should move forward as planned in part because the new requirements “provide relief” for many AM stations, especially those operating in rural communities, from restrictive and expensive directional antennas to less expensive non-directional antennas. “LPFM must share with FM translators and each must share fairly,” REC Networks founder Michelle Bradley told the FCC in a filing last week, adding, “This emergency stay flies in the face of those who support reaching a point of fair play between the two services.”