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.