NAB Says FCC Should Help LPTVs

The National Association of Broadcasters has asked the FCC to give low-power TV stations and translators a home if wireless companies taking over former TV spectrum want to light that bandwidth up before the agency opens a planned window to allow displaced stations to find new permanent homes, if available.

LPTVs were not guaranteed a new channel in the post-incentive auction repack.

In some markets, the FCC won't have to move any full-power TV stations, so winning wireless bidders can start to use the spectrum in those markets earlier than those in the 10 phased transitions that don't start until next year. LPTVs in some of those markets could get a notice to vacate before year's end.

T-Mobile, for instance, has signaled it want to try to launch service in some markets by the end of this year. After the FCC officially turns over the spectrum to wireless companies, they can take it over with only 120 days notice to affected TV stations. Those wireless license grants could be coming out in the next few weeks — major winner applications have been approved for review, which means they are in order and paid up.

In a letter to the FCC, NAB associate general counsel Patrick McFadden, the association's point person on post-auction repack issues, said that the FCC should at least allow LPTVs to apply for special temporary authority (STA) to operate on temporary channels if wireless companies reclaim the channels before the expected early 2018 window. "[I]f a new 600-MHz licensee provides its 120-day notice and displaces LPTV or translator stations, those stations will have no opportunity to remain on the air using an alternate channel," he told the FCC. "This outcome effectively defeats the stated purpose of the displacement window."

"The commission can help preserve service to viewers by allowing displaced translator and LPTV stations to apply for Special Temporary Authority to operate on alternative channels until the FCC processes displacement applications," McFadden said. "While this approach may not help in every case, it would at least allow displaced stations an opportunity to stay on the air where channels are available."

He also said the FCC should look for other ways to mitigate the harm to viewers of displaced stations.

LPTVs are trying to help themselves as well. The LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition is threatening to try and stop the FCC post-auction repack process, unless the FCC addresses its issue with the so-called "Phase Zero," which is what it has dubbed the gap between the spectrum that can be reclaimed by wireless companies before the first phase and when the FCC opens the window for new LPTV channels (where available).

“It should not be a surprise that T-Mobile is going to move swiftly to put available 600-MHz spectrum to use for consumers," the company said in a statement two weeks ago. "We are reaching out to broadcasters to inform them of our plans and we support efforts to find vacant channels below channel 37 for LPTV and translators.”

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.