The FCC announced yesterday that repacked and band-changing television and Class A television stations will have the opportunity to file applications to specify a new channel or expand their proposed facilities between October 3 and November 2.
By way of background, in April of 2013, in preparation for the Broadcast Incentive Auction, the FCC froze the filing of modification applications by full power and Class A television stations that would expand coverage in any direction. With the conclusion of the Broadcast Incentive Auction, stations that were involuntarily repacked or that elected to change bands in exchange for compensation were required to file applications to transition to their newly-assigned channels.
However, apart from some flexibility to increase coverage in any one direction by up to 1%, those applications could only replicate the coverage a station had before the auction. A small group of stations that had special situations such as those that were unable to build on their assigned repack channel or which were predicted to receive excessive interference as a result of the repack were allowed to modify their facilities in what the FCC called the “First Priority” window, which closed last Friday. For the vast majority of stations, however, the window announced yesterday will be their first opportunity in more than four years to expand coverage without requiring a waiver of the freeze.
This “Second Priority” window is limited to repacked and band changing stations. Eligible stations can change their currently assigned channel or make minor modifications to the facilities currently proposed in their repack construction permit (if already granted), or pending repack application. Stations seeking a new channel must remain within their currently assigned band (e.g., a UHF station that was paid in the spectrum auction to move to a VHF channel cannot now file to move back to the UHF band).
Applications filed in this window must protect all applications filed in the initial 90-day repack window, the just-concluded First Priority window, and those filed prior to the April 2013 application freeze. An application seeking a new channel will be handled as a major modification, requiring a 30-day public notice and comment period at the FCC, along with local public notice in the community of license. Stations seeking to modify their facilities while remaining on their assigned channel must still meet the FCC’s requirements for a minor modification application.
Additional costs caused by building expanded or different-channel facilities are not eligible for repack reimbursement, and stations are therefore not allowed to amend their Form 399 estimates to include those additional amounts.
Filing fees will be required for modification applications filed in this window, and station applications that are mutually exclusive with another application filed during the window will have a 90-day period to resolve the mutual exclusivity or both applications will be dismissed. The FCC will treat all applications filed during the window as having been filed on the same day, so the precise date of filing will not be relevant in determining whether applications filed during this window are mutually exclusive.
After years of television stations having their fate dictated by the outcome of the Broadcast Incentive Auction and the FCC-designed repack, this window represents the first opportunity in a long time for stations to take control of their own destinies. Stations will now have the opportunity to obtain what they used to take for granted–the ability to adapt their facilities to changing communities and needs while enhancing their coverage in a post-repack world. That is an opportunity that should not be missed.