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In the 2003 filing window, colloquially known in some circles as "the Great Translator Invasion", some 13,000 application were filed. Of those, approximately 7,000 are still pending, which has been the case since about 2007. In December of that year, a cap of 10 pending applications per applicant could remain, with the remainder dismissed, was proposed by the Commission. The thought was this would reduce the processing backlog since many of the remaining applications were mutually exclusive with others, and were thus subject to a comparative selection process. Although a few applicants were likely engaged in questionable filing practices, many of those affected by the cap had expended time and resources filing for facilities they genuinely intended to construct and operate. No doubt what amounted to an ex post facto change in policy, despite the apparent good intentions of the FCC, was received poorly.
Since 2008, when the cap was suspended, little has happened with translators other than the permissible service change. There is no doubt that this realignment has greatly enhanced the visibility and desirability of translators, but it has done little to address the pending applications, the cap, or the conflict between translators and the LPFM service. With finite spectrum availability and the pent up filing demand partially resulting from infrequent filing windows, skirmishes have no doubt resulted.
Fast forward to 2010 where we find a proposal jointly crafted by Educational Media Foundation and Prometheus Radio Project presented to the FCC. The original proposal, which was not well received by the NAB and NPR, recommended that an LPFM window be opened without implementing the cap or dismissing any translator applications. The translator applications would become secondary to LPFM applications, and would be dismissed if found in conflict. An amendment to this proposal, opposed by a whole bunch of commercial broadcasters, recommended that any applicant with fewer than 10 translator applications could select one for grant, then the LPFM window would proceed. The opposition instead recommended opening a settlement window first, which would no doubt eliminate some of the MX problems and avoid the unpalatable cap and related dismissals.
As we begin a new year, there is still no indication from the FCC when or how it will address this issue. Equally unknown is whether any of the compromises will be utilized, or whether the FCC will strike out on its own in a different direction. Over the past couple of years we have seen a simple modification to the translator concept that has greatly aided AM stations. Perhaps there is some irony that those strides have been coupled with nearly eight years of limited movement on half of the originally filed translator applications. Maybe things haven't changed as much as we originally thought.
Ruck is a senior engineer with D.L. Markley and Associates, Peoria, IL.
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