With broadcasters making their way to the NAB Convention in Las Vegas, the FCC on Friday provided one topic for conversation among TV broadcasters – issuing a Public Notice imposing a freeze – effective immediately – on the filing of any technical application by any licensee or permittee of a full power TV station or a Class A station if that application which would increase their protected service area. The freeze was imposed, in the words of the FCC, in order to “facilitate analysis of repacking methodologies and to assure that the objectives of the broadcast television incentive auction are not frustrated.”  In other words, the FCC wants a stable TV database from which it can begin the process of repacking TV stations into a smaller portion of the TV spectrum to facilitate the auction of parts of the TV spectrum recaptured after an incentive auction for wireless broadband purposes.

According to the notice, the Media Bureau will no longer accept the following types of applications:

  • Modification applications (and amendments to pending modification applications) by full power and Class A television broadcast licensees and permittees for changes to existing service areas that would increase a full power station's noise-limited contour, or a Class A station's protected contour, in one or more directions beyond the area resulting from the station's present parameters as represented in its authorizations (licenses and/or construction permits).
  • Class A displacement applications that would increase a station's protected contour.  (However, the Bureau will continue to accept Class A minor change applications to implement the digital transition (flash cut and digital companion channel) subject to current rule limitations.  

The Notice states that the Bureau will consider requests for waivers of the freeze, on a case-by-case basis “when a modification application is necessary or otherwise in the public interest for technical or other reasons to maintain quality service to the public, such as when zoning restrictions preclude tower construction at a particular site or when unforeseen events, such as extreme weather events or other extraordinary circumstances, require relocation to a new tower site.” So, if your tower collapses and you need to move to a different site, a waiver may be possible, but improvements for the sake of improving a station’s signal will most likely be prohibited by the freeze.

 With respect to already pending full power and Class A modification applications, the Bureau will process those that do not increase the full power station’s noise-limited contour or the Class A station’s protected contour.  For pending applications that do not comply with that limitation, applicants will have 60 days to amend those applications to comply with the limitation or request a waiver.  If an application is not amended, it will sit at the FCC and only be processed after the FCC adopts rules governing how the repacking and the incentive auction will proceed.

It is interesting that the FCC has already taken this action to freeze the television spectrum even though the decision in its proceeding to design the incentive auction is probably months away. Does this mean that the FCC is further along in its incentive auction planning than many had thought? Is there a plan in the works that has specifics for TV station repacking after the rules are adopted? When willThese and many other questions are sure to be pondered in the hallways, suites, bars and restaurants of Las Vegas this week.