FCC Won't Pull Licenses From Hurricane-Affected 'Dark' Stations

The FCC says it won't cancel the licenses of TV and radio stations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that have not been able to get back on the air after the devastation of hurricane's Irma and Maria.

"[T]he communications infrastructures of both Puerto Rico and the USVI were almost completely destroyed," the FCC said in a recent report about the impact on communications of the 2017 hurricane season. 

Ordinarily, broadcast licenses expire if a station has been off the air for a consecutive 12-month period. But with the one-year anniversary of the storms approaching, the FCC's media bureau says it will give affected licensees another six months to recover, though any station that expects to be off the air more than a year has to file for a special temporary authority (STA) detailing the factors preventing their resumption of broadcasts.

"We believe that the catastrophic nature of these events and the ongoing recovery in Puerto Rico and the U.S.," said the Media Bureau

Virgin Islands warrants consideration of 'equity and fairness' for those licensees that have been unable to resume station operations because of the damage caused by the hurricanes and the unusual extended recovery period, exacerbated by the difficulty in restoring electrical service to the islands," said the Media Bureau. 

The FCC made it clear it would extend or reinstate expired licenses unless they get those STA requests.

The FCC says that the two hurricanes combined have prompted more than 100 STA requests already. 

Back in January, the FCC said it would allow 20 TV stations affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria to build their post-incentive auction facilitates on an accelerated schedule.

Most of a thousand stations are repacking into new channels per a predetermined and complicated schedule, but the FCC has decided to let those 20 move more quickly to those new channels than had been the plan so they don't rebuild on the old channel only to have to move to a new in a year or so. The stations had asked for the change and it was granted by the Incentive Auction Task Force and Media Bureau.

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.