On May 26, 2016, the FCC’s Media Bureau issued a Public Notice with the stated purpose of providing advance notice of the eligibility standards for Low Power television (“LPTV”) and TV Translator licensees seeking to file displacement applications in a future filing window. With the commencement of the Incentive Auction, the Media Bureau sought to provide permittees sufficient time to construct their authorized facilities if they wish to participate in the first displacement filing window to be opened shortly after the end of the Incentive Auction.
By way of background, LPTV and TV Translator stations are authorized as secondary-status services, meaning that these stations are not entitled to interference protection from primary-status stations — full-power and Class A television stations — when primary-status stations seek to modify their facilities. As such, LPTV and TV Translator licensees often find themselves scrambling to find an available channel when they are displaced by licensees of primary-status stations.
This secondary status also means that LPTV and TV Translator stations are not eligible to participate in the Incentive Auction, and may be displaced when primary-status television stations are repacked into a smaller portion of the television channel band (channels 2-29). In an effort to ameliorate this situation, the FCC previously indicated that it would open a special filing window for displaced LPTV and TV Translator licensees after the completion of the Incentive Auction. The FCC delegated to the Media Bureau the authority to determine who would be eligible to participate in this first displacement filing window.
The Media Bureau announced in the Public Notice that it will limit eligibility for the first displacement filing window to only those LPTV and TV Translator stations that either (i) are operating pursuant to an issued license authorization, or (ii) have a pending license application on file as of the date that the FCC releases the public notice announcing the new channel assignments and technical parameters for full-power and Class A television stations, i.e., the Channel Reassignment Public Notice.
The Media Bureau noted that LPTV and TV Translator permittees do not need to complete construction until 51 months after the Channel Reassignment Public Notice is released. To the extent that a LPTV or TV Translator permittee has not constructed its initial facility by the release date of the Channel Reassignment Public Notice, however, it will not be able to file for displacement during the initial filing window. The most significant effect of the Bureau’s limiting eligibility for the first displacement filing window is that LPTV and TV Translator permittees in spectrum-congested areas might find it very difficult to find a new channel if they do not file in the first displacement filing window.
Permittees will need to weigh the possibility of the lack of available channels after the first displacement filing window against the expense of constructing a station that could be displaced. This analysis is more pronounced for those permittees with authorizations for UHF channels 30 and above, which will not be available for use by broadcasters if the FCC is successful in clearing 126 MHz of broadcast spectrum during the auction.
While the exact release date of the Channel Reassignment Public Notice is uncertain, permittees are well advised to consider their available options as soon as possible.