Ajit Pai 2017

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai has circulated a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that offers new interference protection proposals for Class A stations. Pai broke the news of the new NPRM during a speech before the Michigan Association of Broadcasters on Tuesday, where he said the new proposals are based in large part on comments the Commission received from broadcast engineers.

The industry and the agency have been grappling with how to resolve interference disputes that pit full-power FMs and translators up against one another. Most of the revisions outlined in a rulemaking proposed in May have largely received backing from radio owners. But a recent proposal to change the scope of interference claims from a station’s current 60dBu contour to a 54dBμ contour has sparked controversy.

“In my view, our rules should reflect the reality of the current noise floor and appropriately balance the interests of Americans who want to listen to smaller local stations in their communities with those who enjoy listening to Class A stations,” Pai told the crowd gathered at the Mackinac Island resort area on Lake Huron. The agency has been studying the ideas submitted by the “many folks” who weighed in on the Commissions 2015 proposal, Pai said, adding that he hopes the draft Notice is approved soon so the Commission can open the public comment period on the new interference proposals.

Pai also provided an update on the Commission’s AM radio revitalization efforts, calling it “perhaps my proudest achievement at the FCC.” It was then commissioner Pai who first proposed a revitalization plan in 2012, some of which the FCC adopted in 2015. The centerpiece of those reforms has been awarding FM translators to AM broadcasters to expand their distribution to the band where the vast majority of radio listening occurs. Calling the response so far “tremendous,” Pai said the Commission has granted more than 800 new FM translator construction permits from the 2017 Auction 99 window to AM stations, and is in the process of issuing final CPs for those applicants that filed mutually exclusive applications. Pai noted the Audio Division was able to close out Auction 99 in just over a year and that 2018’s Auction 100 filing window has already granted 500 new CPs.

Turning his attention to pirate radio, Pai updated broadcasters on what has become one of the agency’s top enforcement priorities. Last month, the FCC fined a pirate operator in Miami the statutory maximum penalty of $144,344 while also holding the landlords liable. “We’re sending a loud and clear message: If landlords knowingly aid and abet pirate radio operations, we’ll go after them too, and they too will face the fully licensed and appropriate music,” Pai said.

The FCC chair also urged established broadcasters in the room to participate in the FCC’s new incubator program designed to light up radio stations with more diverse owners at the helm. “Through these relationships, we aim to boost diversity and competition in broadcasting,” Pai said. “And we hope to give a new generation of leaders a start.” On the subject of reimbursing broadcasters impacted by the incentive auction repack, Pai pledged the Commission would “disburse funds fairly and efficiently while at the same time ensuring that there are robust safeguards against waste, fraud, and abuse.”