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.