The FCC's initial TV channel-sharing rules, adopted in April, went into effect on June 22, according to a notice published in the Federal Register. The new rules are a significant step in the FCC's move towards incentive auctions and TV channel re-packing to accommodate the spectrum needs of wireless broadband proponents. Making room for more broadband wireless service is the No. 1 priority of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
The Federal Register publication also set the deadlines for seeking reconsideration or judicial review of the FCC's channel-sharing Report and Order. The deadline for petitions for reconsideration has passed, but aggrieved parties have until July 23 to ask a court of appeals to review the Report and Order.
When channel sharing becomes a reality, it will be subject to the following considerations:
Channel-sharing will be available only to full-power and Class A licensees who participate in the incentive auction process. What TV licensees are eligible for is not clear because most of the key details of the channel sharing procedure are yet to be determined. LPTV and TV translator stations are not eligible. Because they are secondary services, no provision has been made for their existence during or after band-clearing.
Sharing will be entirely voluntary. The initial channel-sharing rules state that broadcasters may opt in or out of the sharing plan and decide with whom they may want to partner.
- Single facility/separate licensing
While stations sharing a single channel will use a single common transmission facility, each will continue to be licensed separately. Each sharing licensee will keep its original call sign, retain all rights of an FCC license and remain subject to the full panoply of FCC rules.
- Minimum capacity
The manner in which a given 6MHz channel would be divided by sharing licensees will be left to the licensees, provided each sharing station retains enough capacity to operate at least one full-time SD programming stream.
- Must carry
The FCC asserts that the sharing rules will have no effect on stations' cable and satellite carriage rights. Each separately licensed station will be entitled to the same carriage rights as long as it meets all of the usual technical requirements from the shared transmitter location.
- NCE-Commercial sharing
Commercial and NCE stations are permitted to share, as long as NCE licensees structure their arrangements to maintain their noncommercial status. Thus, if an NCE licensee now operating on a reserved channel elects to move to a non-reserved channel as part of a channel-sharing arrangement, the NCE station must continue to operate on an NCE basis. The FCC will decide in a separate context whether a commercial station can elect to share a channel that has been reserved for noncommercial use.
White space rules
The FCC's “white space” proceeding may finally be over. In a Third Memorandum Opinion and Order (3rd MO&O) released in April, the agency disposed of a handful of petitions for reconsideration of a 2010 decision that modified technical specs for white-space devices as adopted in 2008. The 3rd MO&O has now been published in the Federal Register, which means the rules as modified became effective on June 18.
- On or before Aug. 1, 2012, noncommercial TV and Class A stations in California, North Carolina and South Carolina must file their biennial ownership reports.
- On or before Aug. 1, 2012, television stations, Class A TV, LPTV stations, and TV translators in North Carolina and South Carolina must file their license renewal applications.
- On Aug. 1, 2012, TV and Class A TV stations in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands must begin their pre-filing renewal announcements in anticipation of an Oct. 1, 2012, renewal application filing date.
- On Aug. 1, 2012, television and Class A TV stations in the following states must place their 2012 EEO reports in their public files and post them on their websites: California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin.
Harry C. Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth, PLC.
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