Back Door to AM Station/FM Translator Incest Wide Open

At last month’s NAB Radio Show, a representative of the Audio Services Division of the FCC’s Media Bureau disclosed that, even though the agency hasn’t yet taken action on a proposed rulemaking that would allow AM radio stations to utilize FM translators to supplement their coverage areas (a terrible idea, for several reasons), FCC staff are already implementing this “policy.”
How is this possible? The unnamed staffer revealed that all AM broadcasters must do is apply for special temporary authority to run FM translator stations, and, after cursory review, the FCC will let them go ahead and invade the FM dial.
Note that this revelation took place at a broadcast-industry conference; the only reason we know the back-door approval of the use of FM translators by AM stations is already taking place is because a lawyer for the broadcast industry blogged about it. The formal proposal for rulemaking on this particular issue hasn’t even been officially published yet, so there’s no mechanism by which the public can make their opinions known on the matter.
Ironically, this disclosure came just about a week before the Government Accountability Office published a report accusing the FCC of not treating all stakeholders in communications policy debates equally. According to the Los Angeles Times, “FCC officials tipped [industry stakeholders] off to confidential information about when regulators planned to vote on important issues – a clear violation of agency rules that provided an unfair lobbying advantage….Other interested parties – generally consumer and public-interest groups – did not get such favorable treatment, the report said.”
Given these developments, it will be interesting to see whether the FCC actually goes through the motions of “thoughtfully” evaluating this expansion of FM translator-station usage before rubber-stamping it; unfortunately, it appears the agency’s engaged in the tried-and-true method of creating “facts on the ground” to justify a policy it’s already informally implemented. This particular instance is just one more sad example of how communications policy gets made in D.C.: favor industry incumbents, and f*ck the public interest.