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FCC Adopts LPTV Auction-Mitigation Measures

The FCC has adopted new measures to "mitigate" the impact of the incentive auction on low power TV stations and translators, and to extend the deadline for those stations to transition to digital.

Full-power stations had to transition back in June 2009, but LPTVs and translators—low-power re-transmitters of high-powered stations to hard-to-reach areas—got additional time to make the switch—which was to have happened Sept. 1, 2015—and now are getting even more.

Mitigating the auction impact is a big issue not only with those stations but in Congress as well, where GOP leaders including Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) have called on the FCC to do all it can to help.

Many LPTVs carry diverse or religious programming, and translators relay signals of other stations to hard-to-reach, often rural, areas.

The FCC commissioners were scheduled to vote on the item at the FCC's monthly meeting, but it was pulled from the agenda with the notation that it had already been adopted. The order has not yet been released. There is also an accompanying rulemaking proposal that seeks comment on channel sharing issues. The FCC is asking whether displaced LPTVs should be able to share channels.

LPTVs and translators are not allowed to participate in the auction per legislation—on which Rep. Walden was a lead legislator—and their coverage areas are not protected from interference. But Walden has said they should not be displaced to make way for unlicensed users and that they remained important broadcast voices.

LPTV operators have taken the FCC to court over their treatment in the auction, and some recently petitioned the FCC to allow them to apply to participate anyway in case they prevail.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told Congress in July that low power TV is an important voice that the FCC will work to preserve after the incentive auction, even though Congress did not protect them in its auction legislation.

He said that help for LPTVs and translators would take three forms: First, the FCC will help them find channels if they get displaced, he said. Second, the FCC is opening a rulemaking on letting them share channels if they are displaced, as full-power stations voluntarily giving up their spectrum are allowed to do. Third, they won't have to vacate their channels until wireless companies are ready to turn on their service—which will likely be several years after the 2016 auction.