Broadcast Tower Owners On the Hook For FM Translator Problems

The FCC last week voted on a way to streamline and expedite the complaint process for full-power FM stations experiencing interference from an FM translator. If the licensee also owns the tower, his or her responsibilities are magnified.

The translator licensee must take the translator off the air if interference to a full-power FM can’t be resolved. The FCC won’t even grant a translator Construction Permit (CP) application “if an objecting party provides convincing evidence that the proposed translator would likely interfere” with reception of a full service FM, state current FCC rules. In cases when the translator is to go dark, the translator licensee owns the tower, and that structure is required to be painted and lighted for air safety reasons, the owner’s responsibilities increase. That owner remains responsible for maintaining the obstruction painting and lighting until that tower is dismantled, and the FAA and FCC are notified, according to Commission rules.

The current dispute resolution process is lengthy and often contentious. The fights will only worsen if something isn’t done, said Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who pointed out that there were 1,850 licensed FM translators in 1990 and more than 7,500 now. More than a thousand applications are in the pipeline, according to the Audio Division.

Now, the FCC proposes to allow translators that are causing interference to or receiving interference from a primary FM, to apply for any other available same-band frequency. The item would ensure complaints are “adequately substantiated,” said Peter Doyle, in his last presentation before the Commission. Doyle transitioned to a senior advisor role this January after nearly 17 years as Audio Division Chief and 23 years total at the Commission; he plans to retire from the agency next month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced from the dais. The FCC also proposes to set an outer coverage limit beyond which a complaint would not be actionable, Doyle added.

May 16, 2018

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