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FCC takes on quick AM fix, field office closures disappoint

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s surprise rejection last week of a broadly supported measure to provide speedy relief to AM stations saddled with intense interference puzzled and disappointed broadcasters who had been encouraged by his predecessor’s promise of quick action two years ago.

In a blog post that coincided with the NAB Show in Las Vegas, Wheeler for the first time indicated his opposition to reserving new FM translators for existing AM stations, asserting that any new translators should be available to all interested parties. He also suggested that there already are enough FM translator licenses available for AM stations and that licensees should purchase them on the open market, if they’re available.

In comments at the show, Wheeler promised to otherwise move quickly to address the AM band and adopt some of the technical proposals that were set out in the agency’s notice of proposed rulemaking, though these fixes will not likely eliminate the need for FM translators in the equation.

While translators are not available in all markets – especially larger ones – they are the fastest way to help struggling AM stations. Reserving a new batch of translators for existing AM stations would spare broadcasters already serving their local communities from the skyrocketing prices translators are commanding.

TAB’s DC counsel, Scott Flick with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, offers his insight into Wheeler’s concerns and the short-term future for efforts to revitalize the AM band which began in Sept. 2012 at the behest of Commissioner Ajit Pai, one of two Republicans on the panel.  Wheeler is one of three Democrats leading the commission.

Field office closures could weaken compliance, EAS

Just weeks before Wheeler’s AM revitalization ice bath, broadcasters panned the FCC’s leaked plans to shutter two thirds of its field offices and slash its pool of field agents in half. The plans have yet to be officially confirmed.

Regional field offices encourage compliance with FCC regulations and facilitate resolution of local interference complaints resulting from pirate stations and other sources, say some in the broadcast engineering community.

While committing to utilize new, unspecified technology to monitor interference and deploy “tiger teams” to distant markets from one East-coast location to address interference claims, the FCC is inviting spectrum abuse and “RF Anarchy” as one critic put it, while diminishing support for the Emergency Alert System among stations, other observers contend.

Field office personnel often provide invaluable insight and guidance for the efficient operation of the Emergency Alert System and encourage its deployment at the local and state levels.

Laura Stefani with the Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth law firm outlines a number of challenges to healthy spectrum management and regulatory enforcement that could result from the field office closures.

Questions?  Contact TAB's Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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