FCC Will Open April Window For Auction-Displaced LPTVs

The FCC has set the schedule for low-power TVs and translators displaced in the incentive auction to try and find new channels, inclduing advising stations to identify new channels as close to existing broadcasters as possible, echoing advice from Microsoft, which wants as much of the remaining spectrum used for unlicensed wireless as possible.

In a public notice issued Friday (Feb. 9), the FCC's Media Bureau and Incentive Auction Task Force said the "special displacement window" for filing applications for new channels opens April 10 and closes May 15.

The FCC also released a study to help stations figure out what new channels will be available in the new, repacked, TV bands. Actually the FCC study identifies channels that won't be available because they are being used by non-displaced LPTVs and translators or full-power TV's or Class A LPVTS, which were protected in the repack.

The existing channels of LPTVs and translators were not protected in the congressional legislation that created the auction and necessitated the repack, but those displaced in the process are being given a "space available" option to apply for them. Noone is guaranteed a new channel, but the FCC will try to accommodate as many as possible.

The application process is not like a musical chairs game, where first last in loses. If there are mutually exclusive applications--both parties want the same channel or one assigment precludes the other, the FCC will give them a chance to cure it among themselves before designating that license for an auction between the parties.

The FCC is also advising those looking for new channels outside the top 40 DMA's to stay close to existing stations "to help provide flexibility in the future." That sounds like the FCC could be looking to free up even more TV spectrum in that flexible future? NAB was vetting the notice at press time and an FCC spokesperson was not available for comment. But Microsoft has been suggesting such language to the FCC as it pushes for as much contiguous white spaces spectrum between TV channels as it can get.

In fact, according to a document from the FCC auction docket, the advisory tracks with Microsoft's recommended addition to the notice, except that the confined the advice to markets below top 40, while microsoft wanted it to go to 15 larger markets.

Microsoft counsel Paul Margie said in a letter to the commission Feb. 5: "Microsoft recommends that the Commission provide the following guidance to broadcasters participating in the Special Displacement Window for low-power television (“LPTV”) and translator stations:

Given the public interest in promoting the efficient use of spectrum, the Incentive Auction Task Force and Media Bureau encourage LPTV and TV translator licensees operating outside of the largest 25 DMAs to select new channels for displaced stations that are adjacent to channels in use by other broadcast televisionstations. This will preserve spectrum for future uses and allow for maximum flexibility for all stations on a going forward basis.

The FCC language was:

Given the public interest in promoting the efficient use of spectrum, we encourage LPTV/translator stations operating outside of the largest 40 DMAs to select new channels for displaced stations that are adjacent to channels in use by other broadcast television stations to help provide flexibility in the future.

When a station has studied the FCC study datas and identified a channel not in use, and not liable to cause interference to one in, use, it needs to file a construction permit.

The FCC is suspending its general freeze on displacement applications, which is what opens the window, and reinstating it at 11:59 p.m. May 15.

Stations that don't file in that window will have to wait until the freeze is ultimately lifted.

The FCC is trying to limit the number of station facilities changes within the Rubik’s cube of the larger repack of close to a thousand stations.

The FCC last month froze minor LPTV facilities changes signaling the displacement window was about to open.

Not surprisingly, the LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition is seeking proposals from consulting engineers for displacement studies in advance of the window, preferable at a group rate.

"Finally, the day of judgement has arrived for the 1000s displaced by the incentive auction LPTV and TV translators," said Spectrum Rights Coalition Director Mike Gravino "[T]he Public Notice and corresponding FCC data will keep the communications counsel and consulting engineers in business for quite a few months, as this is not an easy issue to understand. Good luck to all which need to file, and remember, this is a collaborative window, and those with the biggest checkbooks will be happy. Thanks Congress!"

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.