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NPR, FM6 Broadcasters Reach Agreement on Channel 6 FM

NPR and FM6 broadcasters now agree that existing FM6 stations should be allowed to continue and that Channel 6 should be made available for noncommercial educational stations, but NAB and public TV groups have concerns about repurposing spectrum needed for the ATSC 3.0 transition, according to comments posted in docket 03-185. “Any reduction in available spectrum could hinder both noncommercial and commercial television stations as they voluntarily and rapidly adopt NextGen TV,” said a public TV joint filing. Proposals to limit the number of FM6 broadcasters and drop Channel 6 interference protections also drew concern from broadcast commenters. “Limiting FM6 operations to those who happened to take a stab at investing in the technology for a six-month Engineering STA is an arbitrary cut-off,” said Common Frequency.

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The Preserve Community Programming Coalition -- an ad hoc group of FM6 broadcasters -- and NPR reached “mutual understandings” about “a path forward for FM6 stations with a history of service,” said the PCPC. NPR has traditionally been the most vocal opponent of allowing FM6 operations to continue. Now, NPR and the PCPC agree the agency should allow only the roughly half dozen legacy FM6 stations to continue broadcasting, relax interference protections for Channel 6 TV stations, and allow noncommercial FM operations on reserved band channels 201-220, according to filings from both entities. Allowing the continued operation of legacy FM6 operations while expanding the reach of public radio is a win-win for consumers and for the Commission,” said NPR.

Allowing FM on Channel 6 will do little to alleviate crowding on the FM band and isn’t practical because many radio dials can’t accommodate it, NAB said. “Consumer FM receivers cannot tune below 87.7 or 87.9 MHz and cannot be upgraded to do so, creating a massive legacy receiver base that cannot tune to most expanded FM band channels. NAB and a joint filing from America’s Public TV Stations, PBS and other public TV groups said the issue is preserving the integrity of existing TV spectrum: “Any further contraction of television’s remaining spectrum allotment” would “significantly impact every other television licensee by further limiting the available spectrum that might otherwise be used for future growth and innovation.”

The highest use for Channel 6 spectrum would be to expand analog FM broadcast service,” said Common Frequency, arguing that allowing continued FM6 operation is a gift to “a select number of companies.” “Is it in the public interest to embrace a technology that is exclusively motivated by profit from subletting channels?” Low-power FM advocate REC Networks filed a detailed proposal to extend the FM broadcast band even further, into both Channels 5 and 6.

Several broadcast groups expressed concern about proposals to eliminate Channel 6 interference protection. NPR and PCPC said the protection was designed for analog equipment, and modern devices aren’t as vulnerable to interference. “Interference obligations from NCEs to TV6 are outdated, unnecessary, and counter to the public interest,” NPR said. “The FCC should not remove any Channel 6 restrictions without carefully analyzing cross-service interference issues,” said the low-power TV group the Advanced Television Broadcasting Alliance. “The record of this proceeding presently includes no interference testing involving NextGen TV receivers and such test data are needed before any changes to the existing TV6 protection requirements can be made,” said NAB.

PCPC said the agency shouldn’t impose restrictions on transferring FM6 stations, but limit the service to stations with a history of FM6 operations. That limit was supported by NAB and NPR, but other broadcaster groups disagreed. “The amount of flexibility afforded a station should not depend on whether it was providing FM6 service at some arbitrary point in time,” said the ATBA. "It would be perverse to penalize the caution of law-abiding licensees who would have liked to initiate FM6 operations but may have been unsure whether such a service can be operated within the commissions’ rules,” said Cocola Broadcasting. “Such services have been under constant threat of a prohibition over all this time.” NPR “remains strongly opposed to the expansion of FM6 operations,” it said.