LPTV Stations Ask FCC To Delay Spectrum Auction

A group of low-power TV stations denied participation in the upcoming broadcast-spectrum incentive auction has asked the Federal Communications Commission to stay the March 29 start of the incentive auction. 

That is according to a document filed at the FCC. In the Feb. 29 filing, Videohouse, Fifth Street Enterprises and WMTM, representing Class A TV's all denied either participation in the auction or protection in the post-auction repack, filed an emergency motion to stay the auction.

The request came after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit granted expedited hearing of their challenge to the FCC's decision to exclude them, but not expedited enough for the case to be resolved, or even argued, before that March 29 date.

The request means the auction would have to be delayed by months, as the court has not even scheduled oral argument until sometime in May.

They told the FCC they are likely to win their court appeal and that the balance of harms and the public interest support a stay. They said the auction was a once in a lifetime opportunity. "[I]n contrast to the irreparable harm that petitioners will suffer without a stay, the FCC will suffer little -- or likely no -- harm if the auction is delayed while this matter is litigated," they said.

"Because the March 29, 2016, start date of the auction is rapidly approaching, Videohouse [et. al] is compelled to file this emergency motion for a Stay," they told the FCC. "After March 29, 2016, petitioners will be foreclosed from participating in the reverse auction" and thus will be unable to “return some or all of their broadcast spectrum usage rights in exchange for incentive payments.”

Also, they noted, "after March 29, 2016, petitioners will forever lose their existing spectrum rights, as they are likely to be displaced with little chance of securing a replacement channel following the post-auction repack. Relief from the commission is urgently needed."

The FCC Media Bureau on Feb. 12 concluded the stations could not participate. Separately, it reversed course and decided a fourth LPTV, owned by Latina Broadcasters of Daytona Beach, was no longer eligible. Latina is seeking a court stay of that decision or the auction start after the FCC denied its stay request last week. The court has given the FCC until Friday (March 4) to weigh in and Latina until March 7.

In their filing with the FCC, the LPTV firms said that if the court looks favorably on Latina's stay request it the FCC should consider that Videohouse has made its case as well since they are similarly situated. Latina has suggested that is not exactly the case because the Videohouse group was initially excluded, while the FCC included Latina's station in the auction until reversing itself Feb. 12.

They said that if the FCC has not made a decision on the stay by March 2, they will consider the request denied.

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.