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Regulations FAQs

Spectrum Issues

How does the FCC determine what frequency I can use?: Allocation is the assignment of a part of the frequency spectrum to a specific set of users. For example: AM radio operates on frequencies 535 kHz to 1705 kHz, with the 1605 to 1705 kHz portion allocated as part of the AM band expansion; FM operates on 88 MHz to 108 MHz with Channels 201-220 (88.1 – 91.9 MHz) reserved for non-commercial educational use. FM frequencies are allotted to communities in the FM Table of Allotments. Unlike FM, AM stations, except AM expanded band stations, are not included in any allotment scheme but rather are fit in based upon the overall technical rules. Television operates on 54 MHz to 88 MHz and 174 MHz to 216 MHz (VHF) (channels 2-6 and 7- 13) and on 470 to 698 MHz (UHF) (Channels 14 to 51, except 37 and sometimes 14 and 20). Since June 13, 2009, full-power television stations nationwide have been required to broadcast exclusively in a digital format with the designation DT or TV. Digital television stations are each allocated 6 MHz of spectrum, which permits broadcast of High Definition signals and/or multiple standard definition digital multicast channels, all but the primary channel of which may be used for ancillary or supplementary services other than over-the-air broadcast television.

It is expected that the upcoming incentive auction, which will offer TV licensees the opportunity to put their channels up for auction, the Commission will “repack” the remaining TV stations in many markets in order to achieve contiguous spectrum blocks to be auctioned to wireless providers for mobile broadband use. Under the Spectrum Act, when the Commission relocates TV stations in its repacking efforts, it must take “all reasonable efforts” to preserve the “coverage area” and “population served” of every surviving full power or Class A TV station. However, LPTV and TV translator stations will receive no protection during the repacking process and will be subject to displacement by any relocated full power or Class A TV stations. Surviving full power and Class A TV stations will be entitled to reimbursement for certain costs related to the “repacking.”

FM Table of Allotments: The FM Table of Allotments appears in Section 73.202(b) of the Commission’s rules and specifies the FM channels assigned to the various communities listed. A party wishing to apply for a channel, but finding none vacant at the desired location, can file a petition to amend the FM Table of Allotments. The petition must be accompanied by an engineering statement showing that the allotment principles are being complied with and that adding another channel is technically feasible. Such a party must also file an application for construction permit on FCC Form 301 for the proposed new channel. Non-Commercial Educational (NCE) FM stations operate on the frequencies 88.1 MHz to 91.9 MHz and, unlike regular FM stations, are not dependent on an allotment scheme. As with AM stations, NCE FM stations must generally be fit in based on compliance with the technical rules.

  1. Upgrades:
    The Commission permits licensees and permittees to request, by application, upgrades of their operations in many circumstances. The one-step application process can be used either to change the class of channel or move the frequency to an adjacent or intermediate frequency (“IF”) channel. Adjacent channels include the three channels above and the three channels below the specified channel. IF channels are those that are 53 or 54 channels removed from the station’s channel. Licensees wishing to upgrade their operations can file a minor change application (FCC Form 301) for the following modifications: (1) co-channel and adjacent channel upgrades; (2) same class adjacent channel substitutions; and (3) co-channel and adjacent channel downgrades. The applicant must also demonstrate that a suitable site exists that complies with the allotment standards with respect to minimum distance separation and city grade coverage.
  2. Community Changes:
    A station operator may request a community change in the FM Table of Allotments and modification of its license accordingly, without placing its existing authorization at risk. This procedure is limited to situations in which the new allotment would be mutually exclusive with the existing allotment. A minor modification construction permit application or a petition for rulemaking to change the FM Table of Allotments is required. In 2011, the FCC adopted new rules to protect radio services in rural areas, by making it more difficult to move stations that are located in rural areas into urban areas.

TV Table of Allotments:

  1. Analog TV Table of Allotments:
    The Analog TV Table of Allotments appears in Section 73.606(b) of the Commission’s rules and specifies TV channels assigned to the various communities listed. It should be noted that because the digital transition has occurred, the analog TV allocations are largely obsolete; however, there are some remaining stations operating on analog channels pursuant to waivers, this information is retained in this Glossary for this and historical reasons. TV stations operate on assigned channels, either VHF (channels 2-13, 54-88 MHz and 174-216 MHz) or UHF (channels 14-51, 470-696 MHz). Channel 37 (608-614 MHz) is reserved exclusively for radio astronomy service. Educational TV stations operate on reserved allotments specified in the TV Table of Allotments. LPTV stations on VHF Channel 6 are often operated as an “FM station” on 87.9 MHz (as that frequency is typically the lowest frequency an analog FM radio can tune to), but doing so skirts the edges of the rules and is disfavored by the Commission staff.
  2. DTV Table of Allotments:
    The Digital TV Table of Allotments appears in Section 73.622 of the Commission’s rules and specifies TV channels assigned to the various communities listed. The allocations for digital service mirror the analog allocations.
  3. Low Power Television (LPTV)/ TV Translators:
    The LPTV service was established by the Federal Communication Commission in 1982 to provide opportunities for locally-oriented television service in small communities. Stations operating with low power are permitted the retransmission of full service programming (television translators) and the origination of programming (LPTV) on a secondary basis, subject to interference from full service TV stations and Class A TV stations. These channels are not subject to an allocation scheme, but rather are subject to technical rules. LPTV stations were not required to convert to all-digital operation in 2009; in fact, their ability to apply for and construct digital operations only began upon completion of the full-power TV digital transition. Currently, the LPTV digital transition is expected to be completed by September 1, 2015.