FCC to streamline allotment process


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In June the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comments on proposals that, if adopted, would have a significant impact on how the agency makes commercial FM channel allotments and community-of-license changes for AM and FM stations. Until the proposals are dealt with, the Commission has imposed a freeze on the filing of petitions for changes in the FM Table of Allotments, even those that do not involve city-of-license changes. In addition, the Commission has opened a limited window for the settlement of pending contested rulemaking proceedings, through Sept. 19, and has waived the cap on settlement amounts. Here is a summary of the proposals:

Permitting Community of License Changes By Filing Minor Change Application. The NPRM seeks comment on whether the Commission should permit a change of community of license of an AM or an FM station through the submission of a minor modification application. Under current procedures to effect a community change an FM licensee must file a petition for rule making. On the AM side, a change in community of license is sought through the filing on a “major change” application that can be filed only during rare auction windows.

Getting Rid of the FM Table of Allotments. The Commission suggests that the agency delete the FM Table of Allotments from its rules. Under this approach, the FCC would continue to maintain the table, but not as a formal rule. Rather, it would simply be a list, probably maintained and accessible on the FCC's CDBS Internet site. Removing the table from the rules would relieve the FCC from due process and other procedural burdens imposed by the Administrative Procedure Act.

Requiring Filing Fee When Filing Petition for New Channels. The Commission is proposing to require petitioners for new FM allotments to file, along with their allotment petitions, a construction permit application and filing fee (currently $2,980). This proposal is intended to stem abuse by parties who file allotment petitions only for the purpose of blocking legitimate proponents and forcing them into settlement arrangements.

Limiting the Number of Allotments in a Petition. The Commission is proposing to limit to five the number of allotments that can be proposed in a single petition to amend the table. Under present procedures elaborate proposals involving 10 or more voluntary changes are permitted. These complicated proceedings, which often include one or more multi-channel counterproposals, cannot be easily or speedily dealt with by the FCC's staff.

Relocation of Sole Local Transmission Service. While not likely to be approved ultimately, the Commission also seeks comment on how to deal with proposals that might involve removal of a community's only local transmission service. First Broadcasting proposed that the Commission adopt processing guidelines that would permit the removal of such a local service if (1) two or more other stations provide 70dBu service to that community; (2) the station-to-be-moved would serve its new community with its first local transmission service; (3) the station-to-be-moved would provide service to a greater population; and (4) the proposed service would not cause any short spacing.

These proposals are the first to be considered since the adoption of the current FM allocation rules in 1982. If adopted, abuses of the system would be curtailed and the process of changing a city of license (for AM or FM stations) would be significantly simplified and improved. With backlogs of contested petitions of three years or more in some cases, this would be a welcome relief.


Dateline:

Radio stations in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and the Pacific Islands must file their 2005 renewal applications, biennial ownership reports and EEO program reports, all electronically, by Oct. 1, 2005.

By Oct. 1, stations in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island must start their renewal pre-filing announcements in advance of their renewal application filing date of Dec. 1, 2005.

Also, by Oct. 1, stations in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands must electronically file their biennial ownership reports.


Martin is immediate-past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth, Arlington, VA. E-mail martin@fhhlaw.com.




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