In July, the FCC released its long-awaited decision announcing that Sept. 1, 2015, will be the drop-dead date for analog Class A TV, LPTV and TV translator operations (together, “LPTV”). However, analog LPTV operations on Channels 52-69 must cease by Dec. 31, 2011, regardless of whether the licensee has been able to find an available lower channel. But, anyone with a companion channel or flash-cut CP has until Sept. 1, 2015, to convert to digital. Here are some of the implications of the FCC's decision:
The FCC anticipates that a four-year transition period ending on September 1, 2015, should provide adequate time for LPTV stations to accommodate themselves to channel “repacking.” The commission has embraced the notion of repacking the TV spectrum to make more space for broadband use by repurposing up to 20 broadcast TV channels and either relocating affected stations to other channels or partial channels, or by having the stations relinquish their frequencies through “incentive auctions” — a plan now being considered in Congress. (See “FCC Update” in Broadcast Engineering's July issue.) The repacking process, if it moves forward as the FCC wants, is certain to affect a sizable number of full-power DTV allotments, which would in turn shrink the spectrum available for digital LPTV.
- Federal money for the transition
The FCC has encouraged NTIA to ask Congress to extend the existing program for reimbursing LPTV digital transition costs. Some $30 million remain in unspent funds in that program. The FCC does not discuss either: (a) the program's statutorily-mandated eligibility criteria, which strongly favor the most rural stations and completely exclude urban stations; or (b) the program's dollar limits of $6000 and $20,000, neither of which fully covers conversion costs.
- Procedural relief
The FCC has automatically extended all currently outstanding digital Cps for flash cuts (i.e., on-channel conversions to digital) or digital companion channels for existing analog stations. No matter when those permits were issued or how many extensions were previously requested, all of these have now been extended to Sept. 1, 2015. Permittees who can show extraordinary unforeseeable circumstances will be eligible for extensions until March 1, 2016. Construction permits for new stations have not been similarly extended; they are good only for their original three-year terms.
- Notices to the public
Migrating licensees must broadcast announcements 30 days before terminating analog operation if they have program origination capability. Stations lacking such capability must find another way to notify the public — e.g., newspaper notices.
- “Minor” change redefined
LPTV stations applying for displacement to a new channel are restricted to a 30mi change in transmitter sites. Other changes may exceed that distance and still be classified as “minor” as long as there is not any overlap of licensed and proposed protected service contours. The FCC will now impose the 30mi limit on all minor changes in addition to the contour overlap requirement.
- Use of VHF channels
The FCC's spectrum repacking proposal may involve moving LPTV stations to available VHF channels. To enhance the attractiveness of VHF, the FCC has increased the LPTV power limit to 3000W, on all VHF channels.
- Class A gets option to choose channels
Class A stations with both analog and digital operations will now be free to elect either of their channels for permanent digital operation. They can apply for a construction permit to flash-cut their analog channel or may migrate their Class A protected status to their digital channel without a CP by filing a Form 302-CA license application.
- Fees for ancillary digital services
Both full-power and LPTV licensed stations that provide non-broadcast digital data services in addition to video program streams are required to file Form 317 each December and pay 5 percent of their gross ancillary services revenues to the government. Digital LPTV stations operating under an STA without a license have been exempt, but no longer. If they provide no such ancillary services, they may say so and pay nothing.
Noncommercial TV stations in Iowa and Missouri must file their biennial ownership reports on or before October 1, 2011.
By October 1, TV and Class A TV stations in the following locations must place their 2011 EEO reports in their public files and post them on their websites: Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Washington and the Pacific Islands.
Harry C. Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth, PLC.
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