FCC Announces Educational Institution FM License Filing Process

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) has issued a public notice outlining the procedures and requirements for applications in the upcoming filing window for construction permits for new non-commercial educational FM (NCE) stations.1 The deposit window will open on November 2, 2021 and close at 6 p.m. EST on November 9, 2021.2

Background

Non-commercial FM licenses are awarded to non-profit educational organizations. The filing window represents a rare opportunity for educational institutions to obtain FM broadcast licenses, which many educational institutions use as an integral part of their educational program. The licensing process should be competitive and entities potentially interested in applying for a license should start analyzing the opportunity now in order to prepare for the November filing window.

The filing window will be the first time in ten years that the FCC will accept applications for new licenses from non-commercial FM stations. The FCC expects a significant volume of claims due to the time that has passed since the last filing window. Due to congested airwaves in urban areas, most of the available channels should be in rural areas.

Application procedures

Claims should be filed electronically using Form FCC 2100, Schedule 340.

Eligibility

An applicant must certify that it is a non-profit educational institution, a government entity other than a school or a non-profit educational organization, and must certify that the NCE FM station will be used for the advancement of an educational program. The requirement that programming advances an educational goal can be met by a variety of programs, including “instructional programs, student-chosen programs, Bible study, cultural programs, news reporting. in depth on current affairs and children’s programs such as Sesame Street that entertain while teaching. a candidate for political office.

Financial qualifications

Each applicant must have sufficient net liquid assets or committed sources of funds to construct the proposed facility and operate it for three months, and be prepared to provide supporting documentation upon request.

Reasonable site assurance

At the time of filing their application, an applicant must have reasonable assurance that their specified site will be available for the construction and operation of the proposed facilities. The applicant must provide the name and contact details of the person contacted to verify the availability of the site.

Comparative review of applications

When requests are considered mutually exclusive (MX) (i.e. filed for the same geographic area), the FCC will perform a three-part analysis consisting of: (1) when requesters offer service to different communities , a “fair distribution study; (2) an analysis of the points system for applicants proposing to serve the same community, or unresolved applicant conflicts as part of the fair distribution analysis; and (3) if necessary, a tie-breaker determination based on the data and certifications provided by the candidate.

Fair distribution of service analysis

Priority will be given (in order): (1) to applications offering the first global reception service to any population or territory; (2) the applicant is a tribal applicant, the proposed license community is located on tribal lands and the proposed facility would be the first local tribal owned NCE transmission service in the community; (3) requests proposing a first radio service of the NCE to “a large population; And (4) applications offering a second radio service from the NCEs to a large population. Applicants wishing to obtain such priority will have to provide supporting documents.

Selection criteria for the point system

The point system awards a maximum of seven merit points, based on four criteria: (1) established local candidate; (2) diversity of ownership; (3) statewide network; and (4) technical parameters.

Established local candidate (3 points)

To qualify for all three points as an “Established Local Applicant”, an applicant must certify that they have been local and established in the community for continuous service for at least two years immediately prior to filing the application. To be considered local, a non-government candidate must have a physical seat, campus, or 75% of its board members residing within 25 miles of the proposed licensing community’s reference contact information. Supporting documents must also be provided.

Diversity of ownership (2 points)

To qualify for the two “diversity of ownership” points, an applicant must certify and demonstrate that the primary community contours of their proposed NCE FM station do not overlap those of another full-service radio station or a translation station without filling. in which the claimant, or any party to the claim, has an attributable interest.

Statewide Network (2 points)

The FCC awards two points to certain statewide networks offering programs to accredited schools.

Technical parameters (2 points)

The FCC awards up to two points to an applicant who offers the best technical proposal in an MX group (i.e., offers service to the largest population and area).

Tie breaking

The first tiebreaker is the number of radio or television station clearances attributable to each candidate (the candidate with the fewest attributable clearances wins). The second tiebreaker is the number of pending radio station requests attributable to each candidate, and the last tiebreaker is the previous NCE requests.

Ranking freeze

A limited freeze on the filing of applications will begin on October 5, 2021 and will continue until the filing window closes.

Next steps

The upcoming filing window represents a rare opportunity for educational organizations to obtain an FM broadcast license. Interested candidates should start preparing their application. Since the FCC does not publish a list of “available” frequencies or provide a “channel finder” to locate available frequencies, applicants will typically retain a broadcast engineering consultant to perform frequency searches.

1 Media Bureau announces filing procedures and requirements for a new NCE FM station for the November 2-9, 2021 window, Public Notice, MB Docket No. 20-343 (rel. 23 July 2021).

2 Applications submitted before November 2 or after 6 p.m. EST on November 9 will be rejected.

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Janice G. Ball