The FCC in a Public Notice released yesterday recognized that some LPTV stations and TV translators may get bumped from their current channels even before full power stations start their transition to new channels to repack the TV band to make parts of it available for wireless Internet operations. The FCC has established windows for the repacking of full-power TV stations where, over a 39 month period, stations that currently operate on Channels 38 and above will be repacked into a smaller TV band under channel 37. LPTV stations are not part of that phased repacking, but instead will have the opportunity to file for displacement channels at some point, probably early next year, if they currently operate on channels 30 or above, or if repacked full-power stations in what will be the core TV band displace the LPTV or translator from their current channel (see our article on that displacement filing window here).
The problem for these secondary stations is that the FCC yesterday announced the grant of construction authorizations for several wireless licensees who bought the cleared TV spectrum. Those wireless companies are free to start testing and operating on portions of the TV band that don’t currently house full-power stations at any time, and some have indicated interest in commencing testing and operations in the very near future. When they do start testing their new facilities on their new spectrum, they may force some existing LPTV stations or TV translators off of their current channels. Once given notice by a wireless operator of its intent to start operations, the LPTV or translator has 120 days to cease operations. If those notices are given in the next month or two, that 120 day period will end before the displacement window for LPTV and translator operators have even filed to seek new channels. So yesterday’s public notice suggested two ways in which these stations can keep operating until they find a permanent, post-repacking home.
The first potential solution is that the LPTV station or TV translator can seek a temporary channel on which to operate prior to filing for a permanent channel in the displacement filing window through the filing of a request for Special Temporary Authority. Alternatively, the LPTV or TV translator can seek a temporary channel sharing arrangement, where they channel share with another low power or translator station until they can find a permanent new home for their operations.
Of course, neither of these options is necessarily a panacea for all displaced stations, as some LPTV or translator stations may not want to go to the expense of changing channels until they know that they have permanent authority for the new channel. There also may not be other stations in their area with which they can share a channel. But, given that the alternative is to cease operations, these interim measures are certainly better than nothing. LPTV stations and TV translators who are in areas where wireless operators may commence operation early because there are no full-power stations blocking their operations should be looking for these alternative arrangements now as once they get the 120 notice from the wireless provider, they may not have much time to effectuate a change in their operations.