Nine in 10 FM applicants face conflicts
Originally published in Current, Nov. 19, 2007
By Karen Everhart
Applicants for new noncommercial FM licenses have less than two months to put their applications on a fast track with the FCC.
Last month’s long-awaited filing window drew 3,630 apps, and the vast majority face interference problems with other applicants’ plans. That means those applicants will have to negotiate with competitors or change technical plans to avoid a much longer wait at the FCC.
The new filing window doesn’t preclude later settlements or technical changes but promises priority consideration to those who can resolve mutually exclusive applications on their own.
More than 90 percent of the apps filed last month are mutually exclusive (MXed) with at least one other application, according to an analysis by the Washington law firm Garvey Schubert and Baer for pubradio’s Station Resource Group.
A group of 270 fortunate “singletons”—the applicants that had no competition as of Nov. 9 —have already entered the 30-day period during which interested parties can file petitions to deny, according to Peter Doyle, chief of the FCC’s Audio Division, who is overseeing the process. Doyle anticipates awarding construction permits to those applicants by the end of the year, assuming no petitions come in against them.
Among those with singletons are Oregon Public Broadcasting, with five unchallenged apps, and Minnesota Public Radio, with three. North Dakota’s Prairie Public Broadcasting, New Hampshire Public Radio and KOHM in Lubbock, Texas, each have one singleton. The luckiest pubcaster of all appears to be Bethel Broadcasting, a Native American public radio service in southwest Alaska that has seven uncontested apps. (Here is the full singletons list as of Nov. 9).
Applicant groups that want to move quickly through the licensing process have until Jan. 7 to file their settlement agreements or technical amendments with the FCC. The commission wants to give priority to those who are motivated to get through the process quickly, Doyle said, because MXed apps that don’t make the new window will take “a lot more time” to work through.
“This is a way to get things moving faster,” said Rolfe Larson, project coordinator for Public Radio Capital, the nonprofit advisor and financier that SRG created to help public radio build or buy additional stations.
The settlement window will help clear out some MXed applicants, Larson predicted, but most will make progress by amending their technical specs and sites rather than negotiating with competitors.
“It’s early for people to settle,” Larson said. “You just applied for it—why settle now?”
Last week, groups in the Radio for People Coalition and the community groups that they assisted were analyzing their situations. The work was complicated by the FCC’s decision to wait until January to identify MXed apps, thus putting the onus on aspiring broadcasters to identify their competitors and possible technical changes that would move them toward singleton status.
The FCC database provides information about all applicants, although early this month engineering details for some apps weren’t available.
An applying group has to do the database research itself or hire an engineer to do it, and the task can get quite complicated, Larson said. Another applicant may have filed for the same frequency or an adjacent channel that would still make their plans mutually exclusive.
Plus, it’s often difficult to identify the groups that have applied for licenses. Religious broadcasters, which also compete for noncommercial frequencies in the 87.9 to 91.9 MHz range, filed apps under many different names that often include the words “educational” or “community.” It will require lots of research just to categorize and count them, Larson said. “People are working their way through that. It will take time.”
Native Public Media, a CPB-backed group that helped Native American communities apply for stations, knows of 43 apps submitted by tribal groups in the lower 48 states, said Loris Ann Taylor, executive director. The organization is still trying to determine how many Alaskan and Hawaiian tribal groups filed.
“We’re also trying to figure how tangled the MX situations are,” Taylor said. In some communities, multiple tribal groups may have applied for the same frequencies.
“I think it’s going to be a much longer, complicated process,” Taylor said. “It’s going to require the help of engineers to figure out what exactly is going on.”
Radio for People members wonder whether community groups will be able to muster the resources to advance their applications. The competitive hurdles can be daunting, although applicants who met the filing window’s deadline are likely to have the grit to tough it out.
A nonprofit webcaster, free103point9, applied for a frequency serving New York’s Greene and Columbia counties along the Hudson River. Its app is MXed with three others, according to Tom Roe, p.d. Two are religious broadcasters, and the third is a Connecticut broadcaster planning a jazz station.
Since the FCC will eventually evaluate MXed proposals based on a point system that favors localism and broadest possible coverage areas, free103 has an edge, Roe said.
“All are from outside the coverage area, and we’re winning theoretically on local points,” Roe said. “Our engineering is also better than theirs, but I suspect that will change.” He predicts competitors will file technical amendments that would strengthen their applications under FCC criteria.
“To me it looks like we’ll be in the two- to four-year process, rather than two to four months,” Roe said. “We’re cautiously optimistic that in a couple of years Greene and Columbia counties will have a community radio station, but we’ll have to see how it plays out.”
Web page posted Nov. 19, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Current Publishing Committee