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FCC Proposes Finders-Keepers Systems For Scarce Airwaves

October 11, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal regulators Thursday proposed a finders-keepers licensing system to encourage business radio users to ferret out underutilized or vacant channels on the nation’s crowded airwaves.

Those who locate such channels in the ″private land mobile radio services″ would be rewarded with a license to the channels, as long as the finders meet minimum eligibility requirements and provided that the channels could be utilized on an exclusive, rather than shared, basis, the Federal Communications Commission said.

The commission also proposed to speed the reassignment of unused or underused channels in private land mobile, whose users include public safety and government agencies, doctors, hospitals, public utilities, railroads and taxicabs. It does not include cellular or broadcast radio. Taxicab companies, since they share channels, would not be affected by the finders’ preference proposal.

The commission, in voting 5-0 to consider the proposals, said ″private land mobile frequencies have become congested and extremely scarce in many areas, making it difficult for new applicants to obtain licenses and for existing licensees to expand their systems.″

In other action, the FCC voted 5-0 to:

- Give more channels, increased power and streamlined licensing procedures to the wireless (microwave) cable TV systems that provide cable programming to apartment buildings and remote areas not served by wired cable. The wireless systems would be able to lease some unused instructional TV channels.

- Define cable systems as those using only cable, wire or other physically closed or shielded transmission paths to provide service to subscribers. The definition effectively excludes wireless cable and direct broadcast satellite systems from having to obtain licenses from local authorities and could be important if and when Congress decides to reregulate cable system prices and business procedures.

- Consider changing international maritime distress communications equipment from Morse code and manual operations to automated or semi-automated communications systems using satellite and digital technologies. The proposals would affect all ships over 300 gross tons moving internationally or passenger ships carrying 12 or more passengers. It would not affect fishing and recreational yachts.

The finders’ preference system was proposed by the business radio industry and would replace the existing system that awards unused or underused channels on a first-come, first-serve basis through private industry groups that coordinate frequency allocation.

Ralph Haller, chief of the FCC’s private radio bureau, said he did not think the new system would encourage ″bounty hunters″ who would try to gain licenses to unused channels and then auction them off to the highest bidder.

The commission said it would ″closely monitor for any signs of abuse″ and was seeking comment on whether applicants seeking preference should first certify that they have not compensated the previous licensee.

The commission also proposed to streamline private mobile licensing procedures and to cancel licenses automatically one year after such a licensee discontinues operations.

Haller said some discontinued radio operations can go unnoticed for as long as five years - until license renewal time.

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