FCC to Lift Station Modification Freeze

The FCC has announced that will soon be lifting a more than four-year freeze on making major modifications to TV stations' coverage areas. The freeze has not yet been lifted, but the FCC has essentially said "ready, set," so those seeking modifications can be ready to go when the freeze lifts.

That is because it will be first come, first served for mutually exclusive changes sought by different stations.

The freeze on changes was instituted in April 2013 so the FCC could get its spectrum ducks—or more like potential Rubik’s Cube facets—in a row for the incentive auction and its potential repack variations. Allowing ongoing modifications would be like trying to put a puzzle together with the size and shapes of the pieces changing in real time.

While stations moving channels in the post-incentive auction repack are already in the process of getting their move-related modifications, more than a thousand stations not moving channels have been prohibited from adjusting their contours. So, the FCC wants that pent-up demand to shake out before it starts helping LPTVs figure out their next spectrum steps.

LPTVs are not protected in the repack and must make way for full-power station moves and coverage adjustments.

Thawing the freeze will allow the FCC to get a handle on who is delivering signals where, which will give LPTVs a better picture of where there will be channels available after the repack and of whether they will be displaced or have to adjust their contours, the FCC signaled.

The new modifications will be accepted on a fist-come, first-served basis, so it will be first in among mutually exclusive mods and snoozers will be losers. The FCC has not said how long the freeze will be lifted. The commission will eventually re-freeze the modifications—it said the thaw would be for a "limited period"—so LPTVs will be dealing from a fixed data set rather than aiming at a moving target as they prepare for an upcoming special filing window.

"To help ensure the utility of the [LPTV] Special Displacement Window by reducing the likelihood that such channels are the subject of full power filings after the Special Displacement Window closes and the freeze is permanently lifted, it is necessary that we temporarily lift the freeze imposed in the April 2013 Freeze Public Notice for a limited period in advance of the Displacement Public Notice," the FCC's Media Bureau said.

The commission will shout "go!" in a public notice after the close of the second filing window for modifications by stations moving channels in the repack.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.