Low Power & Class A Television Category

FCC Announces May 29, 2015 Licensing Deadline for Spectrum Repacking Protection

Scott R. Flick Paul A. Cicelski

Posted January 28, 2015

By Scott R. Flick and Paul A. Cicelski

In a just released Public Notice, the Media Bureau has designated May 29, 2015, as the Pre-Auction Licensing Deadline. That is the date by which certain full-power and Class A TV stations must have a license application on file with the FCC in order for their modified facilities to be protected in the repacking process following the spectrum incentive auction.

While the FCC earlier concluded that full-power and Class A TV facilities licensed by February 22, 2012 would be protected in the repacking, it envisioned protection of TV facilities licensed after that date in a few specific situations. It is to this latter group that the May 29, 2015 deadline applies. These include:


  • Full-power television facilities authorized by an outstanding channel substitution construction permit for a licensed station, including stations seeking to relocate from Channel 51 pursuant to voluntary relocation agreements with Lower 700 MHz A Block licensees;

  • Modified facilities of full-power and Class A television stations that were authorized by construction permits granted on or before April 5, 2013, the date of the FCC's announcement of a freeze on most television modification applications, or that have been authorized by construction permits that were granted after April 5, 2013, but which fit into one of the announced exceptions to the application freeze; and

  • Class A TV stations' initial digital facilities that were not licensed until after February 22, 2012, including those that were not authorized until after announcement of the modification application freeze.

Today's announcement means that, with the exception of stations affected by the destruction of the World Trade Center, stations in the categories above must complete construction and have a license application on file with the FCC by the May 29, 2015 deadline if they wish to have those facilities protected in the repacking process. According to the Public Notice, licensees affected by the destruction of the World Trade Center may elect to protect either their licensed Empire State Building facilities or a proposed new facility at One World Trade Center as long as that new facility has been applied for and authorized in a construction permit granted by the May 29 deadline.

The Public Notice will inevitably cause some confusion, as it refers in a number of places to having a facility "licensed" by the May 29 deadline (e.g., "We also emphasize that, in order for a Class A digital facility to be afforded protection in the repacking process, it must be licensed by the Pre-Auction Licensing Deadline."). Fortunately for those of us that read footnotes carefully (that's what lawyers do!), the FCC stated in the small print that "[t]he term 'licensed' encompasses both licensed facilities and those subject to a pending license to cover application...."

For those holding TV licenses that are more interested in the spectrum auction than in the repacking of stations afterwards, the Pre-Auction Licensing Deadline is also relevant, as the FCC indicates that "[t]he Pre-Auction Licensing Deadline will also determine which facilities are eligible for voluntary relinquishment of spectrum usage rights in the incentive auction." In other words, to the extent the FCC bases auction payments in part on a selling station's coverage area, the facilities constructed by the Pre-Auction Licensing Deadline (with a license application on file) will be used in making that determination.

Finally, the Public Notice indicates that this is a "last opportunity" for full power and Class A TV stations to modify their licenses to correct errors in their stated operating parameters if they want the FCC to use the correct operating parameters in determining post-auction protection.

So, whether a television station owner is planning on being a seller or a wallflower in the spectrum auction, today's announcement is an important one, and represents one of the FCC's more concrete steps towards holding the world's most complicated auction.


Class A Television Continuing Eligibility Certification

Posted January 10, 2015

Class A television stations are required to maintain documentation in their public inspection files sufficient to demonstrate continuing compliance with the FCC's Class A eligibility requirements. We recommend that by this date Class A television stations generate such documentation for the period October 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014 and place it in their public inspection file.


FCC Form 398 Children's Programming Report Due

Posted January 10, 2015

Commercial full-power and Class A television stations must by this date electronically file FCC Form 398 demonstrating their responsiveness to "the educational and informational needs of children" for the period October 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014, and ensure a copy of the form as filed with the FCC is in the station's public inspection file.


Certification of Children's Commercial Time Limitations Required

Posted January 10, 2015

Commercial full-power and Class A television stations must place in their public inspection files by this date records "sufficient to verify compliance" with the FCC's commercial time limitations in children's programming broadcast during the period October 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014.


Quarterly Issues/Programs List Required

Posted January 10, 2015

All full-power radio, full-power television, and Class A television stations must place in their public inspection files by this date the Quarterly Issues/Programs List covering the period October 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014.


2015 Off to a Fast Start for Broadcasters' Regulatory Obligations

Scott R. Flick

Posted January 5, 2015

By Scott R. Flick

In what has become an annual holiday tradition going back so far none of us can remember when it started (Pillsbury predates the FCC by 66 years), we released the 2015 Broadcasters' Calendar last week.

While starting a new year is usually jarring, particularly breaking yourself of the habit of dating everything "2014", this new year seems particularly so, as many took last Friday off, making today, January 5th, their first day back at work. For broadcasters, whose fourth quarter regulatory reports need to be in their public inspection files by January 10th, that doesn't leave much time to complete the tasks at hand.

To assist in meeting that deadline, we also released last week our fourth quarter Advisories regarding the FCC-mandated Quarterly Issues/Programs List (for radio and TV) and the Form 398 Quarterly Children's Programming Report (for TV only). Both have not-so-hidden Easter Eggs for Class A TV stations needing to meet their obligation to demonstrate continuing compliance with their Class A obligations, effectively giving you three advisories for the price of two (the price being more strain on your "now a year older" eyes)!

And all that only takes you through January 10th, so you can imagine how many more thrilling regulatory adventures are to be found in the pages of the 2015 Broadcasters' Calendar. Whether it's SoundExchange royalty filings, the upcoming Delaware and Pennsylvania TV license renewal public notices, or any of a variety of FCC EEO reports coming due this year, broadcasters can find the details in the 2015 Broadcasters' Calendar. For those clamoring for an audiobook edition, we're holding out for James Earl Jones. We'll keep you posted on that.


Pre-Filing and Post-Filing License Renewal Announcement Reminder for TV Stations in New Jersey and New York

Scott R. Flick Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted December 1, 2014

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

November 2014

TV, Class A TV, and locally originating LPTV stations licensed to communities in New Jersey and New York must begin airing pre-filing license renewal announcements on December 1, 2014. License renewal applications for all TV stations in New Jersey and New York are due by February 2, 2015.

Pre-Filing License Renewal Announcements

Stations in the video services that are licensed to communities in New Jersey and New York must file their license renewal applications by February 2, 2015.

Beginning two months prior to that filing, full power TV, Class A TV, and LPTV stations capable of local origination must air four pre-filing renewal announcements alerting the public to the upcoming license renewal application filing. These stations must air the first pre-filing announcement on December 1, 2014. The remaining announcements must air on December 16, 2014 and January 1, and January 16, 2015, for a total of four announcements. A sign board or slide showing the licensee's address and the FCC's Washington DC address must be displayed while the pre-filing announcements are broadcast.

For commercial stations, at least two of these four announcements must air between 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. (Eastern/Pacific) or 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. (Central/Mountain). Locally-originating LPTV stations must broadcast these announcements as close to the above schedule as their operating schedule permits. Noncommercial stations must air the announcements at the same times as commercial stations, but need not air any announcements in a month in which the station does not operate. A noncommercial station that will not air some announcements because it is off the air must air the remaining announcements as listed above, i.e., the first two must air between 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. (Eastern/Pacific) or 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. (Central/Mountain).

The text of the pre-filing announcement is as follows:

On [date of last renewal grant], [call letters] was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee until June 1, 2015. [Stations which have not received a renewal grant since the filing of their previous renewal application should modify the foregoing to read: "(Call letters) is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve the public interest as a public trustee."]

Our license will expire on June 1, 2015. We must file an application for renewal with the FCC by February 1, 2015. When filed, a copy of this application will be available for public inspection at www.fcc.gov. It contains information concerning this station's performance during the last eight years [or other period of time covered by the application, if the station's license term was not a standard eight-year license term].

Individuals who wish to advise the FCC of facts relating to our renewal application and to whether this station has operated in the public interest should file comments and petitions with the Commission by May 1, 2015.

Further information concerning the FCC's broadcast license renewal process is available at [address of location of the station] or may be obtained from the FCC, Washington, DC 20554.

If a station misses airing an announcement, it should broadcast a make-up announcement as soon as possible and contact us to further address the situation. As noted above, special rules apply to noncommercial stations that do not normally operate during any month when their announcements would otherwise be required to air, as well as to other silent stations. These stations should contact us to ensure they give the required public notice.

Continue reading "Pre-Filing and Post-Filing License Renewal Announcement Reminder for TV Stations in New Jersey and New York"


Breaking News: FCC Suspends Construction Deadlines and Expiration Dates for New LPTVs and Translators

Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted October 10, 2014

By Lauren Lynch Flick

Late today, the FCC released a Public Notice stating that "[e]ffective immediately, the expiration dates and construction deadlines for all outstanding unexpired construction permits for new digital low power television (LPTV) and TV translator stations are hereby suspended pending final action in the rulemaking proceeding in MB Docket No. 03-185 initiated today by the Commission."

As referenced in that statement, the FCC simultaneously released a Third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on a number of issues related to the transition of LPTV stations to digital and their fate in the post-auction spectrum repacking. Specifically, the FCC states in the NPRM that:


In this proceeding, we consider the measures discussed in the Incentive Auction Report and Order, other measures to ensure the successful completion of the LPTV and TV translator digital transition and to help preserve the important services LPTV and TV translator stations provide, and other related matters. Specifically, we tentatively conclude that we should: (1) extend the September 1, 2015 digital transition deadline for LPTV and TV translator stations; (2) adopt rules to allow channel sharing by and between LPTV and TV translator stations; and (3) create a "digital-to-digital replacement translator" service for full power stations that experience losses in their pre-auction service areas. We also seek comment on: (1) our proposed use of the incentive auction optimization model to assist LPTV and TV translator stations displaced by the auction and repacking process to identify new channels; (2) whether to permit digital LPTV stations to operate analog FM radio-type services on an ancillary or supplementary basis; and (3) whether to eliminate the requirement in section 15.117(b) of our rules that TV receivers include analog tuners. We also invite input on any other measures we should consider to further mitigate the impact of the auction and repacking process on LPTV and TV translator stations.

While primarily focused on the future of the LPTV and TV translator services, the NPRM definitely includes some issues of interest to full-power TV stations as well, including the idea that repacking full-power stations may necessitate the construction of digital-to-digital translators to address situations where such stations "experience losses in their pre-auction service areas". The extent to which the FCC may create such losses is of course one of the issues currently on appeal before the courts, but such losses might also result from stations voluntarily moving from UHF to VHF channels in the auction, or moving from a High VHF to a Low VHF channel. The FCC proposes to permit such translators only where a loss of service has occurred, and to limit such translators to replicating, rather than extending, a station's prior coverage area.

Another interesting issue for which the FCC is seeking input in the NPRM is whether to allow LPTV and TV translator stations to channel-share with full-power and Class A TV stations. That issue, as well as the proposal to allow Channel 6 LPTV stations to provide an analog FM audio service as an ancillary service, will make this a particularly interesting proceeding likely to attract lots of comments.

The comment dates have not yet been set, but Comments will be due 30 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register, with Reply Comments due 15 days after that. Those operating LPTV and TV translator stations will no doubt be happy to see that the FCC is taking steps to "mitigate the potential impact of the incentive auction and the repacking process on LPTV and TV translator stations," but the many issues covered by the NPRM make clear that, for many of these stations, it will definitely be an uphill climb.


Pre-Filing and Post-Filing License Renewal Announcement Reminder for TV Stations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont

Scott R. Flick Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted October 1, 2014

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

September 2014

TV, Class A TV, and locally originating LPTV stations licensed to communities in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont must begin airing pre-filing license renewal announcements on October 1, 2014. License renewal applications for all TV stations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont are due by December 1, 2014.

Pre-Filing License Renewal Announcements

Stations in the video services that are licensed to communities in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont must file their license renewal applications by December 1, 2014.

Beginning two months prior to that filing, full power TV, Class A TV, and LPTV stations capable of local origination must air four pre-filing renewal announcements alerting the public to the upcoming license renewal application filing. These stations must air the first pre-filing announcement on October 1, 2014. The remaining announcements must air on October 16, November 1, and November 16, 2014, for a total of four announcements. A sign board or slide showing the licensee's address and the FCC's Washington DC address must be displayed while the pre-filing announcements are broadcast.

For commercial stations, at least two of these four announcements must air between 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. (Eastern/Pacific) or 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. (Central/Mountain). Locally-originating LPTV stations must broadcast these announcements as close to the above schedule as their operating schedule permits. Noncommercial stations must air the announcements at the same times as commercial stations, but need not air any announcements in a month in which the station does not operate. A noncommercial station that will not air some announcements because it is off the air must air the remaining announcements as listed above, i.e., the first two must air between 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. (Eastern/Pacific) or 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. (Central/Mountain).

Continue reading "Pre-Filing and Post-Filing License Renewal Announcement Reminder for TV Stations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont"


Annual EEO Public File Report Deadline for Stations in AK, Am. Samoa, FL, Guam, HI, Mariana Is., MO, OR, PR, Saipan, VI and WA

Scott R. Flick Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted October 1, 2014

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

September 2014

This Broadcast Station Advisory is directed to radio and television stations in Alaska, American Samoa, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Iowa, the Mariana Islands, Missouri, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Saipan, the Virgin Islands, and Washington, and highlights the upcoming deadlines for compliance with the FCC's EEO Rule.

October 1, 2014 is the deadline for broadcast stations licensed to communities in Alaska, American Samoa, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Iowa, the Mariana Islands, Missouri, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Saipan, the Virgin Islands, and Washington to place their Annual EEO Public File Report in their public inspection files and post the reports on their station websites.

Under the FCC's EEO Rule, all radio and television station employment units ("SEUs"), regardless of staff size, must afford equal opportunity to all qualified persons and practice nondiscrimination in employment.

In addition, those SEUs with five or more full-time employees ("Nonexempt SEUs") must also comply with the FCC's three-prong outreach requirements. Specifically, all Nonexempt SEUs must (i) broadly and inclusively disseminate information about every full-time job opening, except in exigent circumstances, (ii) send notifications of full-time job vacancies to referral organizations that have requested such notification, and (iii) earn a certain minimum number of EEO credits, based on participation in various non-vacancy-specific outreach initiatives ("Menu Options") suggested by the FCC, during each of the two-year segments (four segments total) that comprise a station's eight-year license term. These Menu Option initiatives include, for example, sponsoring job fairs, participating in job fairs, and having an internship program.

Continue reading "Annual EEO Public File Report Deadline for Stations in AK, Am. Samoa, FL, Guam, HI, Mariana Is., MO, OR, PR, Saipan, VI and WA"


Pre-Filing and Post-Filing License Renewal Announcement Reminder for TV Stations in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, and Saipan

Scott R. Flick Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted August 1, 2014

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Scott R. Flick

July 2014
TV, Class A TV, and locally originating LPTV stations licensed to communities in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, and Saipan must begin airing pre-filing license renewal announcements on August 1, 2014. License renewal applications for all TV stations in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, and Saipan are due by October 1, 2014.

Pre-Filing License Renewal Announcements

Stations in the video services that are licensed to communities in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, and Saipan must file their license renewal applications by October 1, 2014.

Beginning two months prior to that filing, full power TV, Class A TV, and LPTV stations capable of local origination must air four pre-filing renewal announcements alerting the public to the upcoming license renewal application filing. These stations must air the first pre-filing announcement on August 1, 2014. The remaining announcements must air on August 16, September 1, and September 16, 2014, for a total of four announcements. A sign board or slide showing the licensee's address and the FCC's Washington DC address must be displayed while the pre-filing announcements are broadcast.

For commercial stations, at least two of these four announcements must air between 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. (or 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. in the Central/Mountain time zones). Locally-originating LPTV stations must broadcast these announcements as close to the above schedule as their operating schedule permits. Noncommercial stations must air the announcements at the same times as commercial stations, but need not air any announcements in a month in which the station does not operate. A noncommercial station that will not air some announcements because it is off the air must air the remaining announcements as listed above, i.e., the first two must air between 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. (or 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. in the Central/Mountain time zones).

Continue reading "Pre-Filing and Post-Filing License Renewal Announcement Reminder for TV Stations in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, and Saipan"


All Class A and Full-Power Television Stations Must Comply with Online Political File Requirements as of July 1, 2014

Posted July 1, 2014

For more information, see Pillsbury's Client Alert.


FCC Releases 2014 Regulatory Fee Proposals

Christine A. Reilly

Posted June 20, 2014

By Christine A. Reilly

With the heat of Summer now upon us, the FCC is gearing up for its annual regulatory fee filing window, which usually occurs in mid-September. Like other federal agencies, the FCC must raise funds to pay for its operations ("to recover the costs of... enforcement activities, policy and rulemaking activities, user information services, and international activities."). For Fiscal Year 2014, Congress has, for the third year in a row, mandated that the FCC collect $339,844,000.00 from its regulatees.

Accordingly, the FCC is now tasked with determining how to meet the Congressional mandate. At its most basic level, the FCC employs a formula that breaks down the cost of its employees by "core" bureaus, taking into consideration which employees are considered "direct" (working for one of the four core bureaus), or "indirect" (working for other divisions, including but not limited to, the Enforcement Bureau and the Chairman's and Commissioners' offices). The FCC factors in the number of regulatees serviced by each division, and then determines how much each regulatee is obligated to pay so that the FCC can collect the $339M total.

In its quest to meet the annual congressional mandate, the FCC evaluates and, for various reasons, tweaks the definitions or qualifications of its regulatee categories to, most often, increase certain regulatory fee obligations. FY 2014 is just such an occasion. In FY 2013, the FCC, which historically has imposed drastically different fees for VHF and UHF television licensees, decided that, effective this year, FY 2014, VHF and UHF stations would be required to pay the same regulatory fees. In addition, a new class of contributing regulatees, providers of Internet Protocol TV ("IPTV"), was established and is now subject to the same regulatory fees levied upon cable television providers. Prior to FY 2014, IPTV providers were not subject to regulatory fees.

The FCC's proposals for FY 2014 regulatory fees can be found in its Order and Second NPRM ("Order"). In that Order, the FCC proposes the following FY 2014 commercial VHF/UHF digital TV regulatory fees:


  • Markets 1-10 - $44,875

  • Markets 11-25 - $42,300

  • Markets 26-50 - $27,100

  • Markets 51-100 - $15,675

  • Remaining Markets - $4,775

  • Construction Permits - $4,775
Other proposed TV regulatory fees include:
  • Satellite Television Stations (All Markets) - $1,550
  • Construction Permits for Satellite Television Stations - $1,325
  • Low Power TV, Class A TV, TV Translators & Boosters - $410
  • Broadcast Auxiliaries - $10
  • Earth Stations - $245
The proposed radio fees depend on both the class of station and size of population served. For AM Class A stations:
  • With a population less than or equal to 25,000 - $775
  • With a population from 25,001-75,000 - $1,550
  • With a population from 75,001-150,000 - $2,325
  • With a population from 150,001-500,000 - $3,475
  • With a population from 500,001-1,200,000 - $5,025
  • With a population from 1,200,001-3,000,000 - $7,750
  • With a population greater than 3,000,000 - $9,300
For AM Class B stations:
  • With a population less than or equal to 25,000 - $645
  • With a population from 25,001-75,000 - $1,300
  • With a population from 75,001-150,000 - $1,625
  • With a population from 150,001-500,000 - $2,750
  • With a population from 500,001-1,200,000 - $4,225
  • With a population from 1,200,001-3,000,000 - $6,500
  • With a population greater than 3,000,000 - $7,800
For AM Class C stations:
  • With a population less than or equal to 25,000 - $590
  • With a population from 25,001-75,000 - $900
  • With a population from 75,001-150,000 - $1,200
  • With a population from 150,001-500,000 - $1,800
  • With a population from 500,001-1,200,000 - $3,000
  • With a population from 1,200,001-3,000,000 - $4,500
  • With a population greater than 3,000,000 - $5,700
For AM Class D stations:
  • With a population less than or equal to 25,000 - $670
  • With a population from 25,001-75,000 - $1,000
  • With a population from 75,001-150,000 - $1,675
  • With a population from 150,001-500,000 - $2,025
  • With a population from 500,001-1,200,000 - $3,375
  • With a population from 1,200,001-3,000,000 - $5,400
  • With a population greater than 3,000,000 - $6,750
For FM Classes A, B1 &C3 stations:
  • With a population less than or equal to 25,000 - $750
  • With a population from 25,001-75,000 - $1,500
  • With a population from 75,001-150,000 - $2,050
  • With a population from 150,001-500,000 - $3,175
  • With a population from 500,001-1,200,000 - $5,050
  • With a population from 1,200,001-3,000,000 - $8,250
  • With a population greater than 3,000,000 - $10,500
For FM Classes B, C, C0, C1 & C2 stations:
  • With a population less than or equal to 25,000 - $925
  • With a population from 25,001-75,000 - $1,625
  • With a population from 75,001-150,000 - $3,000
  • With a population from 150,001-500,000 - $3,925
  • With a population from 500,001-1,200,000 - $5,775
  • With a population from 1,200,001-3,000,000 - $9,250
  • With a population greater than 3,000,000 - $12,025
In addition to seeking comment on the proposed fee amounts, the Order seeks comment on proposed changes to the FCC's basic fee formula (i.e., changes in how it determines the allocation of direct and indirect employees and thus establishes its categorical fees), and on the creation of new, and the combination of existing, fee categories. The Order also seeks comment on previously proposed core bureau allocations, the FCC's intention to levy regulatory fees on AM Expanded Band Radio Station licensees (which have historically been exempt from regulatory fees), and whether the FCC should implement a cap on 2014 fee increases for each category of regulatee at, for example, 7.5% or 10% above last year's fees. Comments are due by July 7, 2014 and Reply Comments are due by July 14, 2014.

FCC Announces Freeze on LPTV Displacements and New Digital Replacement Translator Applications

Christine A. Reilly

Posted June 12, 2014

By Christine A. Reilly

Surprise, surprise, the FCC has instituted yet another application filing freeze! The FCC effectively said "enough is enough" and stopped accepting applications for LPTV channel displacements and new digital replacement translators.

Yesterday, the FCC released a Public Notice indicating that, effective June 11, 2014, the Media Bureau would cease to accept applications seeking new digital replacement translator stations and LPTV, TV translator, and Class A TV channel displacements. The FCC did provide that in certain "rare cases", a waiver of the freeze may be sought on a case-by-case basis, and that the Media Bureau will continue to process minor change, digital flash cut, and digital companion channel applications filed by existing LPTV and TV translator stations.

According to industry sources, there have been grumblings at the FCC that low power television broadcasters have been using the digital replacement translator and LPTV displacement processes to better position themselves from the fallout of the upcoming spectrum auction and subsequent channel repacking. That appears to be confirmed by the Public Notice, as it states that the freeze is necessary to "to protect the opportunity for stations displaced by the repacking of the television bands to obtain a new channel from the limited number of channels likely to be available for application after repacking...." Setting aside the freeze itself for a moment, it seems clear from this statement that the FCC has no illusions that there will be room in the repacked spectrum for all existing low power television stations.

While there have been myriad FCC application freezes over the years, they have been occurring with increasing frequency. From the radio perspective, absent a waiver, extraordinary circumstances, or an FCC-announced "filing window", all opportunities to seek a new radio license (full-power, low power FM or translator) have been quashed for some time now.

The first notable television freeze occurred in 1948 and lasted four years. The FCC instituted a freeze on all new analog television stations applications in 1996. In furtherance of the transition to digital television, the FCC instituted a freeze on changes to television channel allotments which lasted from 2004 to 2008. In 2010, the FCC froze LPTV and TV translator applications for major changes and new stations; a freeze which remains in effect today.

Yet another freeze on TV channel changes was imposed in 2011 in order to, among other things, "consider methodologies for repacking television channels to increase the efficiency of channel use." And as Scott Flick wrote here last year, still another television application freeze on full power and Class A modifications was launched on April 5, 2013. That freeze remains in effect and effectively cuts off all opportunities for existing full-power or Class A television stations to expand their signal contours to increase service to the public. The volume of application freezes has grown to such an extent that it is difficult to keep track of them all.

In terms of reasoning, yesterday's Public Notice indicated that since the DTV transition occurred five years ago, the impact of the instant freeze would be "minimal" since transmission and contour issues should have been addressed as part of, or generally following, that transition. The Notice proceeded to say that LPTV displacement and digital replacement applications were necessary after the DTV transition, and up to the FCC's April 2013 filing freeze, for purposes of resolving "technical problems" associated with the build-out of full-power DTV stations, but that since there have been no "changes" to those service areas because of the last freeze, there should be no need for LPTV channel displacements or digital replacement translators.

Left out in the cold by these cascading freezes are broadcast equipment manufacturers and tower crews. As previously noted by numerous broadcasters and the NAB, the FCC's frosty view of just about every form of station modification is effectively driving out of business the very vendors and equipment installers that are critical to implementing the FCC's planned channel repacking after the spectrum auction. As we learned during the DTV transition, the size and number of vendors and qualified installers of transmission and tower equipment is very limited and, given the skills required, can't be increased quickly. Driving these businesses to shrink for lack of modification projects in their now-frozen pipelines threatens to also leave the channel repacking out in the cold.


FCC Adopts Rules for the Broadcast Spectrum Auction

Carly A. Deckelboim

Posted May 15, 2014

By: Carly A. Deckelboim

Earlier today, the FCC held its monthly Open Meeting, where it adopted rules to implement the Broadcast Television Incentive Auction.You can watch a replay of the FCC's Open Meeting on the FCC's website.

Thus far, the FCC has released three documents relating to the actions it took today in this proceeding, as well as separate statements from four of the five commissioners, providing at least some initial guidance to affected parties: (1) a News Release, (2) a summary of upcoming proceedings, and (3) a staff summary of the Report & Order.

At the meeting, the commissioners noted that, when released, the Report and Order will contain a number of rule changes to implement the auction. The major takeaways are:

  • The reorganized 600 MHz Band will consist of paired uplink and downlink bands, with the uplink bands starting at channel 51 and expanding downwards, followed by a duplex gap and then the downlink band;
  • These bands will be comprised of five megahertz "building blocks", with the Commission contemplating variations in the amount of spectrum recovered from one market to the next, meaning that not all spectrum will be cleared on a nationwide basis, and in some markets, repacked broadcasters will be sharing spectrum with wireless providers in adjacent markets;
  • The FCC anticipates there will be at least one naturally occurring white space channel in each market for use after the auction by unlicensed devices and wireless microphones;
  • The auction will have a staged structure, with a reverse auction and forward auction component in each stage. In the reverse auction, broadcasters may voluntarily choose to relinquish some or all of their spectrum usage rights, and in the forward auction, wireless providers can bid on the relinquished spectrum;
  • In the reverse auction, participating broadcasters can agree to accept compensation for (1) relinquishing their channel, (2) sharing a channel with another broadcaster, or (3) moving from UHF to VHF (or moving from high VHF to low VHF);
  • The FCC will "score" stations (presumably based on population coverage, etc.) to set opening prices in the auction;
  • The FCC will use a descending clock format for the reverse auction, in which it will start with an opening bid and then reduce the amount offered for spectrum in each subsequent round until the amount of broadcast spectrum being offered drops to an amount consistent with what is being sought in the forward auction;
  • The auction will also incorporate "Dynamic Reserve Pricing", permitting the FCC to reduce the amount paid to a bidding station if it believes there was insufficient auction competition between stations in that market;
  • The rules will require repurposed spectrum to be cleared by specific dates to be set by the Media Bureau, which can, even with an extension, be no later than 39 months after the repacking process becomes effective;
  • The FCC will grandfather existing broadcast station combinations that would otherwise not comply with media ownership rules as a result of the auction; and
  • The FCC continues to intend to use its TVStudy software to determine whether a repacked station's population coverage will be reduced in the repacking process, despite NAB's earlier protests that the current version of the software would result in reduced coverage for nine out of ten stations in the country.
Finally, the FCC will be asking for public input on numerous additional issues, such as opening bid numbers, bid adjustment factors, bidding for aggregated markets in the forward auction, dealing with market variations, setting parameters for price changes from round to round, activity rules, and upfront payments and bidding eligibility. The FCC will consider in future proceedings ways to mitigate the impact of repacking on LPTV/TV translators, how to address interference between broadcast and wireless operations, and how best to facilitate the growth of "white spaces" devices in the unlicensed spectrum.

Although today's Open Meeting and these preliminary documents provide some guidance on many complex incentive auction issues, they only scratch the surface, and there are many blanks the FCC will need to fill in between now and the auction. One of those that broadcasters will be watching very carefully is how the Media Bureau will be handling reimbursement of stations' repacking expenses. That has turned out to be a very challenging issue in past FCC efforts at repurposing spectrum, and the fact that the amount set aside by Congress for reimbursement might well fall short of what is needed has many broadcasters concerned.

We will know more about this and many other issues when the Report and Order is released, hopefully in the next week or two, but the real answers are going to reveal themselves only very slowly over the next year or two. The FCC has to hope that they will still have broadcasters' attention by the time we reach that point.