If you have an LPTV station operating on a channel higher than 51, you have until September 1 of this year to file an application to change to digital operation on channel 51 or below. Failure to file an application by that deadline means the station’s authority to operate will terminate on December 31 of this year, which is the deadline announced late today by the FCC for ending all LPTV operations on channels 52-69.
By establishing this rapid deadline for moving LPTV stations out of channels 52-69, the FCC is seeking to clear the way for the immediate use of that spectrum by wireless operators and public safety systems. Stations that are unable to locate a workable channel below channel 52 and get a modification application on file in the next six weeks will have to shutter their operations by the end of this year.
In the order released today, the FCC also established a hard date of September 1, 2015 for all analog LPTV broadcasting to cease, regardless of channel. The FCC stated that setting the date some four years in advance will allow low power operators ample time to plan for the transition and prepare for the impact of the National Broadband Plan on spectrum availability.
Stations that are unable to complete new digital facilities by September 1, 2015 may seek a single six month extension by filing a request with the FCC by May 1, 2015 demonstrating that the delay is justified. If granted, the station would then have until March 1, 2016 to complete construction of its digital facilities. However, the extension only affects how long the station has to complete it digital facilities. Even with a construction extension, the station would still be required to cease all analog operation by the September 1, 2015 deadline.
To help stations find new in-core channels that minimize loss of coverage, the FCC announced that it was increasing the maximum power permitted an LPTV station operating in the VHF band from 300 watts to 3,000 watts. Because the VHF band is not well suited to digital television, it is currently underutilized by full power TV stations, and the FCC is clearly hoping that the power increase will encourage more LPTV stations to move to the VHF band as they transition to digital.
Stations may terminate analog operation at any time prior to September 1, 2015 without specific authority of the FCC. However, after the effective date of the new rules, stations terminating analog operation will have to give notice to the public over the air if they are capable of local origination, or by an alternate means (such as the local newspaper) if they are not. The FCC indicated that it would also establish more general consumer notification efforts in the future as the 2015 deadline draws closer.
With regard to Class A television stations operating both an analog and a digital companion channel, they will be permitted to select which of their two channels will be their permanent digital channel and assign their Class A status to that channel. This will be done by filing a license application on FCC Form 302-CA, and certifying their digital operation meets the requirements for Class A eligibility.
Also, under the newly adopted rules, when an LPTV station files an application to modify its facilities for any purpose, it must propose a transmitter location within thirty miles of its community of license. An application to move the station beyond that distance will be considered an application for a new station subject to competing applications, filing windows, etc.
While the 2015 deadline permits in-core LPTV stations far more time to convert to digital operation than the FCC had originally proposed, out-of-core stations will have to move very quickly to locate an available in-core channel and get an application on file by the September 1 deadline. Failure to do so will result in the broadcast equivalent of the death penalty–permanent loss of license.