On July 31, 2017, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing the dates of the first priority filing window for broadcast stations reassigned to new channels as a result of the Incentive Auction. For eligible TV stations, the first priority filing window will open on Wednesday, August 9, 2017, and close at 11:59 pm EDT on Friday, September 8, 2017.
Through the FCC’s “repacking” process, numerous stations are being involuntarily reassigned to other channels within their existing band (UHF or VHF) to free up blocks of spectrum for mobile broadband use. Other stations are voluntarily moving from UHF to VHF channels pursuant to a winning auction bid. Moving all of these stations to new channels is not an easy task, but the FCC’s proposal for a phased transition is intended to provide some order in what will almost certainly be a chaotic repacking process.
The FCC’s Incentive Auction Closing and Reassignment Public Notice issued April 13, 2017, provided new channel assignments, technical parameters, and construction phase deadlines for each TV station that is being reassigned to another channel, either voluntarily or involuntarily. If a station changing channels has determined that it cannot construct facilities within the specified technical parameters, wants to request an alternate channel, and/or wants to construct expanded facilities due to a predicted loss of service on its new channel, the licensee can file an application during this first priority filing window to obtain relief.
Applications during this first priority filing window are restricted to stations meeting one of the following requirements:
- Stations changing channels that are unable to construct facilities that meet the technical parameters specified in the Closing and Reassignment Public Notice;
- Stations changing channels that are predicted to experience more than a one percent loss in population served as a result of the repacking process;
- Class A stations that did not receive protection in the repacking process and were displaced during the repacking process.
If a TV station falls into one of these categories it is eligible to file an application during this first priority filing window to request expanded facilities or an alternate channel. However, applications for expanded facilities are limited to those that qualify as a minor change under the FCC’s rules. Applications for alternate channels are subject to the local public notice requirements in the FCC’s rules, including a 30-day period for the filing of petitions to deny. Furthermore, stations changing from UHF to VHF pursuant to a winning auction bid may not apply for alternate channels outside of their assigned post-auction band.
Although not applicable to all TV stations impacted by the incentive auction, this first priority filing window provides an important opportunity for a number of negatively impacted stations to have their post-auction channel issues addressed.