For well over four years, television stations have not been able to file applications to upgrade their technical facilities as the FCC froze such applications as it wanted to preserve a stable database of TV facilities while it conducted the Incentive Auction and implemented the repacking of the TV band. For TV stations affected by the repacking, the FCC has opened two windows allowing repacked stations to change and maximize their technical facilities on their new channels, the second of which will end on November 2 (see our article here). It was generally expected that the next window to open would be one for the filing by LPTV and TV translator stations displaced by the repacking of full-power stations to find new channels on which they could operate. However, the FCC was approached by LPTV and translator advocates who worried that these stations would file their displacement applications, get construction permits and start to construct new facilities on new channels, only to again be displaced when the FCC lifted its freeze on the filing of applications for new facilities by full-power stations not affected by the repacking. They feared that the four years of pent up demand would cause a flood of applications by full-power stations, some of which might displace LPTVs and TV translators on their new displacement channels. To relieve some of that pent up demand by full-power and Class A stations not affected by the repacking, before the LPTV/translator displacement window, the FCC’s Media Bureau yesterday issued a Public Notice announcing that it will temporarily lift the freeze to allow applications by full-power and Class A TV stations that were not affected by the repacking.

The Public Notice does not specify the date for this lifting of the freeze. Instead, that date will be announced in another public notice specifying the limited period during which the freeze will be lifted. Applications filed after the lifting of the freeze will apparently be processed in the same way as normal minor change applications, on a first-come, first-serve basis. The lifting of the freeze will also allow the FCC to process construction permit applications filed by TV stations before the imposition of the freeze in April 2013 – applications that have been sitting at the FCC since that time.

The Public Notice also recapped the process for filings in the LPTV/translator Displacement Window (which we summarized here and the full FCC notice about those procedures here). That process includes the following:

  • Sixty days prior to the opening of the Displacement Window, a Public Notice will provide data identifying locations and channels where LPTV/translator stations likely cannot propose displacement facilities because of the presence of existing non-displaced LPTV/translator stations, full power and Class A television stations, and land mobile operations.
  • LPTV/translator stations can now file minor change applications (that is applications proposing a change in power, antenna height or directionality, or transmitter site location as long as the coverage from the new location overlaps with the current service area) which may allow some stations to eliminate the conditions leading to the displacement (e.g. by moving further from a repacked station or by directionalizing their signal away from such a station).
  • To create a stable database for stations filing in the Displacement Window, approximately 30 days before the Public Notice that will precede the Displacement Window, the FCC will issue another Public Notice freezing the filing of minor change applications by LPTV/translator stations. So, if a minor change will eliminate the need to file a displacement application, an LPTV or translator licensee should look at such a filing now, before the new freeze on minor changes is announced.

For LPTVs and TV translators that need to change channels, with the new window for full-power stations following the lifting of the freeze and all of the other procedural hurdles that need to pass, the Displacement Window now looks like it will not occur until at least late in the first quarter or in the second quarter of 2018. But, presumably, stations filing in that window will have a more stable universe of TV stations from which they can plan their displacement applications. Watch for more developments in the coming weeks on all of these matters and start your preparations now (including discussions with your engineers and attorneys about the subtleties of these processes) for figuring how your station can best take advantage of these upcoming filing windows.