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The advocacy group called the FCC’s earlier decision arbitrary, capricious and contrary to LCRA

WASHINGTON — While the industry digests the 998 objections that Prometheus and two other advocacy groups filed with the FCC on May 17, the Federal Communications Commission has issued a firm “no” in a separate Prometheus filing — one that may be of interest to low-power FM stations, AM operators, LCRA supporters, and those watching for a future tug of war between AM radio stations and LPFMers.

Last year the Prometheus Radio Project filed a series of petitions with the FCC saying the commission’s 2017 formal order on the siting of cross-service translators for AM stations was arbitrary, capricious, contrary to the goals of the Local Community Radio Act of 2010, and insensitive to the needs of community-oriented noncommercial educational LPFM providers.

The issue surrounds the commission’s decision not to adopt a specifically defined distance limit on the siting of cross-service translators for AM stations with a 2 mV/m contour exceeding 25 miles.

As part of its AM revitalization efforts, the FCC amended a rule in February 2017 surrounding the siting of an FM translator that is rebroadcasting an AM station. The draft of this Second Report and Order differed from earlier documents in that it did not include any specific distance limits on the siting of translators.

This was done intentionally, the FCC said, to give AM stations flexibility in using a cross-service translator to serve its core market — assuming that it still did not extend its signal beyond the station’s core service area.

Prior to the circulation of this Second R&O draft, the rules were quite specific: a cross-service FM translator had to be located such that its 60 dBμ contour was contained within the lesser of either the AM station’s daytime 2 mV/m contour, or within a 25-mile radius centered at the AM station’s transmitter site.

As the FCC put it: “refraining from adopting a limit would be consistent with the objective, articulated in the [AM Revitalization Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking], to provide flexibility to an AM station using a cross- service translator.”

Prometheus objected, however. It argued that without the proposed 40-mile limit, expanded siting options for cross-service FM translators would lead to an increase in the short-spacing of low-power FM stations from multiple directions, and would significantly restrict incumbent LPFM stations’ ability to relocate in the event of lost transmitter sites.

The commission dismissed Prometheus’ objections at the time and went ahead and approved the Second R&O without any mention of the 40-mile limit. The commission said Prometheus neglected to quantify the number of LPFM stations that would be affected and noted that the new rules still made space for mandated minimum spacing and contour overlap protections.

Prometheus responded again with a stay petition and reconsideration petition and demanded a freeze on the processing of related applications.

The FCC again disagreed. “Despite Prometheus’s claims, the commission did not fail to account for any adverse impact that the order will have on LPFM stations,” the FCC said. “Rather, the commission found that the public interest benefits of providing greater flexibility for AM stations to locate cross-service translators, even beyond the 40-mile limit, were significant and that nothing in the record, including Prometheus’s February Ex Parte, demonstrated harm to LPFM stations that would outweigh these benefits.”

Nor does the commission agree with Prometheus’ assessment that it violated the LCRA by not adopting a set distance limit on siting of cross-service translators.

“[The order] addresses community needs by allowing improved primary service by AM broadcasters” such that the requirements of Section 5 of the LCRA have been met, the FCC said.

The commission rejected Prometheus in another way: its assessment that the FCC favored expansion of commercial stations, “many of which are controlled by large national ownership groups at the expense of noncommercial local LPFM,” Prometheus told the FCC.

Elimination of the set distance limit does not favor expansion of commercial stations at the expense of noncommercial stations, the FCC said. “The increased flexibility in siting of cross-service translators will benefit both commercial and noncommercial AM stations … [and] the potential for harm to noncommercial LPFM stations resulting from this increased flexibility is remote.”

As a result, the commission rejected Prometheus’s request for reconsideration and dismissed its stay petition as moot.

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Reps from the Center for International Media Action, Common Frequency and the Prometheus Radio Project believe the FCC has had its eye off the ball since 2014

WASHINGTON — The FM spectrum wars seem to be heating up.

Three organizations that support low-power FM stations in the United States have filed objections to 998 applications by full-power stations that want to extend coverage via FM translators.

Representatives from the Center for International Media Action, Common Frequency and the Prometheus Radio Project believe the FCC has had its eye off the ball since 2014 as it has handled translator applications.

This is the latest development in a years-long tug of war over U.S. FM spectrum management that often finds LPFM advocates and translator licensees pitted against one another a situation and that has gotten worse first as the LPFM service expanded and then as FCC policies encouraged further proliferation of FM translators for full-power stations including AMs.

The groups argue that after the Local Community Radio Act expanding the LPFM service was signed into law in 2011, Congress ordered the FCC to ensure that urban areas had opportunities for LPFM and translator applications and that the two types of radio facility be treated equally.

While the FCC previously had carefully modified translator processing procedures so that applicants could show that they were honoring the LCRA, argued Paul Bame of the Prometheus Radio Project in a letter on its website , “since 2014, something switched and they have allowed a giant spectrum grab by repeaters without regard to future LPFM opportunities.

“The congressional mandate is still in force, but seems to have been forgotten by the FCC,” he wrote.

According to the three groups, the FCC is supposed to serve as a referee between the interests of stations that wanted to extend their coverage with “repeaters” and new LPFMs looking to get a start in broadcasting.

“And from 2011 to 2013, they got it right,” the groups wrote. “Unfortunately, the referee has stepped off of the field, and incumbent owners are grabbing up everything they can, hoping no one will remember Congress’ mandate.”

They assert that the LCRA had determined that translator and LPFM services “remain equal in status” and “secondary to existing and modified full-service FM stations,” and thus, the groups argued, the FCC cannot enforce rules that give one service preference in relation to signal engineering.

Said Todd Urick with Common Frequency: “The rule of law still applies, and the FCC is bound by the orders that Congress gave it. Our objection to these 998 applications is a reminder that there was no sunset on compliance with this law in 2014 — it is still on the books and must be obeyed.”

Specifically, the groups said the FCC has informally sanctioned the practice of allowing translators to short-space existing LPFM facilities — i.e., allowing translator proposals to be spaced shorter than what LPFM services are allowed to propose to translators — without legally testing the issue. “This, by definition, affords a higher status to translators,” the groups said, a practice they say violates the LCRA.

In the case of a short-spacing, the groups said, a translator applicant “is free to propose endless minor changes and modification around the LPFM in perpetuity, but the LPFM is locked into its coordinate position from moving any closer to the translator.”

“The bias preemptively deems service preference to the translator party, with the LPFM party saddled with one-way mutual exclusivity,” the groups said.

Common Frequency, Prometheus and CIM are calling for all the applicants they list in their filing to confirm that their engineering requests meet the demands of the LCRA Section 5. They should demonstrate this prior to licensing, the group said, or be subject to dismissal or rescindment.

A list of the applicants are listed in in Appendix A of the group’s filing, and include applicants from all over the contiguous United States as well as Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

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Expire June 11, barring further developments like action in Congress

U.S. “net neutrality” rules will expire on June 11, the Federal Communications Commission said last week.

In December the FCC repealed the open-internet rules that had been set in 2015, barring providers from blocking or slowing access to content or charging consumers more for certain content.

“The prior rules were intended to ensure a free and open internet, give consumers equal access to web content and bar broadband service providers from favoring their own material or others,” Reuters reported.

“The revised rules were a win for internet service providers, whose practices faced significant government oversight and FCC investigations under the 2015 order, but are opposed by internet firms like Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc.”

The new rules require internet providers to tell consumers whether they will block or slow content or offer paid “fast lanes.” Comcast, Verizon and AT&T  have all pledged to not block or discriminate against legal content after the rules expire. Some internet providers have said they could eventually offer paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization, for some future internet traffic.

A group of 22 states led by New York and others have sued to try to block the new rules from taking effect, and the U.S. Senate could vote to reject the December repeal. Acting New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said, “The repeal of net neutrality would allow internet service providers to put their profits before the consumers they serve and control what we see, do, and say online,” as quoted in the same article. A spokeswoman for Underwood said the state attorneys general have not sought a stay of the FCC order yet.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has led the move to change the rules. Even if the Senate were to block this change, that effort would not likely survive the more heavily Republican House of Representatives or a presidential veto.

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U.S. radio industry technical leaders are emphasizing the importance of registering your downlinks by mid-July

U.S. radio industry technical leaders are emphasizing the importance of registering your downlinks by mid-July.

We’re reported recently about reminders from organizations like NPR and the Society of Broadcast Engineers. In this week’s Monday Morning Coffee Technical Notes , Larry Wilkins of the Alabama Broadcasters Association expands on the point.

He reminds readers that the FCC will be evaluating the C Band (3.7–4.2 GHz) for possibly repurposing for wireless broadband use. The band is used by many broadcasters for satellite distribution of programming.

[Read more about the history of this topic. “Mid-Band Spectrum Talk Worries Broadcasters,” Jan. 2018]

He stresses: “It is critical that you register your downlink so the FCC is aware of it during this 90-day window or you risk losing ALL of your satellite programming. The 90-day window closes on July 18, 2018.”

Wilkins adds, “Stations are also encouraged to contact your FCC attorney and let him or her know where you stand on the issue.”

C Band downlink stations need to be registered no later than July 18, according to Wilkins. There is a $435 fee, though NCE stations can get that waived.

He also shares a link to useful specific directions from space providers SES and Linkup Satellite. Read his post.

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Current process is “nasty, brutish and long,” FCC Chair Ajit Pai says

WASHINGTON — A new rulemaking proposed by the Federal Communications Commission would help to streamline and modify FM translator interference complaint and remediation procedures.

At its Open Meeting on May 10, the commission released a proposal that would provide greater certainty to full-power stations regarding complaint requirements, limit contentious factual disputes, and ensure prompt and consistent relief from actual translator interference, the FCC said in a release .

“Today the chair brings forth an appropriate solution with more effective process for handling legitimate complaints,” said Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, referencing the fact that the of licensed FM translators has increased from 1,850 in 1990 to more than 7,500 in 2017 — with more to come. “[I] hope to hear from stakeholders on whether or not this will adequately address the rise in interference concerns due to the successful [AM Revitalization] proceeding.”

Added Chairman Ajit Pai: “The current process for resolving such interference complaints can be nasty, brutish and long. That’s why we aim to streamline and expedite it,” he said. “These measures would provide more certainty to translator stations and full-service FM stations alike. And in many cases, they would eliminate the need for further remediation measures, resolving interference complaints more quickly.

The notice proposes that translators be given greater flexibility to move to another available frequency in the case of interference and that the rules be clarified and standardized when it comes to complaint requirements. The notice also suggests that proposed technical criteria should be used to assess actual and predicted interference, and that an outer distance limit should be created beyond which interference complaints would not be actionable.

In response to the notice, the National Association of Broadcasters said it is grateful the FCC is considering new policies. 

“[These] will extend local radio service through the use of translators while protecting the existing service of FM broadcasters,” said NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton.Comments can be left at the FCC ECFS database using Media Bureau docket number 18-119.

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Almost all of the information about radio and TV stations is now available online

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission has unanimously voted to propose eliminating rules requiring the posting of broadcast licenses, as well as ownership and contact information, in specific physical locations.

That is because the rules date back most of a hundred years — they were adopted in 1930 — and almost all the info is now available online.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said he had seen such information literally taped to the walls on a recent visit to broadcast facilities at One World Trade Center in New York and had the picture to prove it.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai pointed out that no rationale was ever laid out for these posting rules in the first place.

The chairman also said the FCC had to take a fine tooth comb on the rulebook to find all the related rules and thanked the staff for wielding those combs.

It is the 10th dereg item in the chairman’s regulatory modernization efforts, not to be confused with major deregulatory weed-whacking like net neutrality and broadcast ownership reg rollbacks. 

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Office of Engineering and Tech and International and Wireless Telecomms Bureaus asked for comments on allowing wireless services to share the band for 5G

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission is looking into whether C Band spectrum — used by National Public Radio and others — should potentially be opened up for sharing with wireless operators.

On May 1, the Office of Engineering and Technology and the International and Wireless Telecommunications Bureaus asked for comments on the feasibility of allowing wireless services to use or share parts of the 3.7–4.2 GHz spectrum band for 5G use.

The FCC is asking for direction on how it should assess the possible impacts of sharing with those who are already operating in this band. The agency is also asking for suggestions on how this sharing might be accomplished without causing harmful interference and what other considerations the commission should take into account.

The deadline for those comments is May 31, with reply comments due June 15.

In a filing submitted earlier this week , National Public Radio expressed concerns about any such proposal. The public radio satellite system depends on C Band for distribution of programming to its 1,278 public radio stations, said Adam Shoemaker, counsel for NPR, in the filing.

At a face-to-face meeting between NPR staff members and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly in April, representatives from NPR touched on the current lack of alternatives to satellite for reliable public radio program distribution to public radio stations across the country.

Calling such a move “disruptive” and “not feasible,” NPR representatives explained that the nation’s noncommercial, nonprofit public radio system cannot afford alternative means of program distribution — such as terrestrial/fiber networks — which are significantly more expensive than satellite distribution. “[T]here are rural and remote areas of the country where fiber does not reach and there are no alternatives to satellite distribution, regardless of cost,” the filing said.

NPR said there are “no proven interference protections available” for those currently operating in that band.

During its discussions, NPR provided a series of information sheets to the commissioner that detailed how the public radio satellite system serves as an indispensable link to the American public.

Those interested in submitting comments on the FCC can do so through the FCC ECFS database using Docket 18-122.

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The acronym stands for “Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act”


WASHINGTON — Another legislative step has been taken in the effort to fight illegal pirate radio operations.

On May 8, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) formally introduced a bill to Congress designed to thwart and penalize illegal radio operations.

Known as the ‘‘Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act,” the PIRATE Act will increase the ability of the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on pirate activity by increasing fines, streamlining enforcement and placing liability those who facilitate illegal radio broadcasts.

“It is time to take these pirates off the air by hiking the penalties and working with the Federal Communications Commission on enforcement,” Lance said in a statement. Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly have been able partners in making sure these broadcasts are stopped. This bill will give the FCC even more tools to take down these illegal broadcasts.”

[Read about Chairman Pai’s plans for more anti-piracy efforts.]

As a commissioner who has long been searching for more Congressional authority to address pirate radio operations, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly commended the effort after the news was announced.

“This bill rightfully increases the penalties, requires regular enforcement sweeps, and augments the tools available to the commission, which are woefully inadequate and outdated, to deal with illegal pirate broadcasters,” O’Rielly said in a statement.

O’Rielly noted that the bill notably excludes legitimate Part 15 operations — those radio hobbyists who have authority to operate without a license as long as their ERP levels remain below a specific threshold.

“While I defer to the legislative process, I think the PIRATE Act has a great chance of becoming law and helping stomp-out this illegal activity,” O’Rielly said.

The bill has been endorsed by several groups including the New Jersey Broadcasters Association, which said it has been calling for an initiative such as this for several years. “Congressman Lance has championed this legislation in an effort to protect communities from the harmful and potentially life-threatening consequences of the many illegal pirates operating in or near New Jersey,” said Paul S. Rotella, NJBA president and CEO. “This is a significant national enhancement of penalty and enforcement for those who would violate our airwaves and should give such offenders pause,” he said.

In a release expressing its support for the bill, Rotella said that members of the public may not understand the real danger that pirate radio operators pose. He pointed to potential interference to the Emergency Alert System as well as the creation of excessive RF radiation to residents and businesses in buildings with pirate radio station operations.

New Jersey is one state with a statute against pirate operations; in the Garden State, it is a forth degree felony to operate a pirate radio station, with penalties of up to $10,000 in potential liabilities and a maximum of 18 months in prison, the NJBA said. The PIRATE Act will offer a “meaningful nationwide remedy” against pirate radio operators, the organization said, since many states do not have such pirate radio laws in place.

The amendment to the Communications Act of 1934 gives “real teeth to stop these violators and keep them out of business,” Rotella said.

As reported in Radio World, the PIRATE Act proposes to hike the fine for violations to as much as $100,000 per day, with a maximum fine of $2 million. The rules currently allow the FCC to impose a maximum daily penalty of about $19,200 per day. At a Congressional hearing on the bill in March, New York State Broadcasters Association President David Donovan told lawmakers that illegal operators are undermining the nation’s Emergency Alert System, causing invasive and insidious interference, pose potential public health problems due to overexposure to radio frequency radiation, and interfere with airport communications.

“[O]ur communities are better served when broadcasting is governed by the rule of law,” Tonko said. “[This is] important legislation that will ensure our airwaves are protected from piracy and Americans on the job or on their way to work can tune their radios in peace.”

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The merged company would have a combined total of around 127.2 million wireless subscribers, putting it close to AT&T’s 141.6 million subscribers and Verizon’s 150.5 million

WASHINGTON — Last week T-Mobile and Sprint announced their long-anticipated merger . But will the deal stand up to the scrutiny of regulators?

“Although the Trump administration is generally seen as more friendly to the telco industry than the Obama administration was, it has taken issue with some mega-mergers, most notably AT&T’s bid for Time Warner,” according to Wired magazine . “The combination of T-Mobile and Sprint, the third and fourth largest mobile providers, respectively, would bring the number of major cellular carriers down from four to three, which could attract a lot of scrutiny.”

The merged company would have a combined total of around 127.2 million wireless subscribers, putting it close to AT&T’s 141.6 million subscribers and Verizon’s 150.5 million.

Those opposed to the deal say it will result in less competition and higher prices, but defenders argue that a combined T-Mobile and Sprint could put more downward pricing pressure on AT&T and Verizon. 

The current administration, and the FCC in particular, “has a generally more laissez-faire attitude toward both the telco industry and mergers…but the administration also has a populist streak that could foil, or at least slow down, this merger,” according to the same article. 

 The administration recently blocked Singapore-based chipmaker Broadcom’s acquisition of Qualcomm out of fears that “a consolidated chip market would give China’s ambitions in the industry an edge.”

T-Mobile and Sprint are both already foreign-owned. 

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An excerpt from this week’s Monday Morning Coffee and Technical Notes

The following is from the Alabama Broadcasters Association’s weekly e-newsletter, Monday Morning Coffee and Technical Notes. Thanks to ABA’s Larry Wilkins. To subscribe to the newsletter, email lwilkins@al-ba.com.

REGISTERING C-BAND SATELLITE DOWNLINKS

The Federal Communications Commission is working towards making 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz mid-band frequencies – spectrum that is coveted by U.S. mobile operators – available for 5G.

This frequency spectrum is the C-Band service used by most major networks and programmers to deliver content to radio and television stations 

Michael Ha, deputy chief of technology at the FCC said he expects the Commission to issue a notice of proposed rule-making (NPRM) “by summer,” which will then be followed by a public comment period. 

All broadcast stations (radio and television) that presently utilize C-band satellite for program reception are encouraged to register their downlink site with the FCC. The deadline to register is July 18.

Listed here are detailed instructions, provided by space providers SES and Linkup Satellite, that you can follow to complete registration.

These steps are in response to the recent FCC ruling which determined all C-band downlink Earth stations across the US must be registered with the FCC no later than July 18, 2018. There is a $435 registration fee per C-band downlink. (However, if you are a Non-Commercial Educational (NCE) and your FRN indicates this designation, the $435 registration fee should be waived.)

EAS NOTES 

A reminder that when setting incoming alert filters in your EAS decoders, always set the area to “local area”. Local area tab is where the counties in the station service area are selected.

This helps filter alerts that are not for your service area. If you select “all of State” then some alerts not for your area could trigger a outgoing message relay.

JOB OPENING AT MOODY BROADCASTING 

Moody Radio currently has an immediate opening for a chief engineer to care for their West Coast of Florida radio group, full time.

Contact Mark Williames Director of Engineering P: (312) 329-4303.

IMPORTANCE OF GAIN STRUCTURE 

Gain Structure is a term mostly used by professional sound engineers or FOH (front of house) mix engineers. However it should be something the broadcast engineer take note of as well, even in digital operations.

Gain structure is exploiting the dynamic range of audio equipment to its best advantage, to minimize noise and unwanted distortion.

We need to ensure that the gain in each stage of electronic processing within a signal path is optimized to keep the signal level well above the noise floor, but comfortably below the circuitry’s clipping point.

Optimizing gain structure where several pieces of gear are connected together is even more demanding, as we need to ensure that every circuit is running at its optimum signal level, while still leaving the appropriate safety margin.

We have mentioned this in previous articles, but it’s worth repeating. Start with drawing a signal flow chart for your station; include every device the signal goes through from the console to the transmitter. Next refer to the specification sheet for each device and write down the “clip level” for each one. The lowest clip level for a device in the path becomes your maximum “plant clip level”. If the maximum plant clip level is +24 dBm then deduct 12 dB for head room. Your operational clip level will be +12 dBm. 

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