The FCC last week released a Public Notice describing the process for the filing of applications for replacement channels for LPTV stations and TV translators that are displaced by the incentive auction. As the repacking of the TV band following the incentive auction will require LPTV and TV translator stations now operating on channels above 37 to move to a new channel below that channel, and as others will be displaced by full-power stations being moved from high channels to channels below 37 (or simply being rearranged on their channels to make room for some of the stations being repacked into the smaller TV band), this displacement window will be necessary for these LPTV/TV translator stations to continue to operate. The Public Notice sets out that the FCC will open a displacement window after full-power stations that were repacked as a result of the incentive auction have had their own windows when they can request alternative channels or increased facilities, as set out in the FCC’s auction Closing Notice (see that notice here). The FCC estimates that the LPTV/TV Translator window will likely be announced 7 or 8 months after last month’s Closing Notice in the auction – meaning that it is likely to be announced at the end of this year. As the announcement of the window will give LPTV and translator stations 60 days to prepare applications, and the window itself will last 30 days, it looks like we are looking at displacement applications being due late in the first quarter of 2018.

In addition to displaced LPTV stations and displaced TV translators, full-power TV stations that lost coverage areas because of the repacking will be able to file in this displacement window for a new class of translators. In fact, these new translators will receive a preference over displacement applications for LPTV stations and TV translators if both happen to file for the same channel. The FCC will, however, provide mutually exclusive applicants filed during the window an opportunity to move to a different channel to resolve any conflict.

LPTV stations and TV translators that are displaced by the incentive auction should study last week’s Public Notice carefully, as it sets out various procedures for filing, and even mentions that the FCC will itself make available its “Channel Finder” software that was used to repack full-power stations in the incentive auction to help find new channels for displaced LPTV and translators. Displaced LPTV/TV translator stations can change sites to find an open channel – up to 48 kilometers for stations already operating digitally, but only 16.1 kilometers for stations still in analog.

The FCC also notes that LPTV/TV translator stations that can avoid displacement by a minor change to their existing facilities can file now. The FCC in fact urges stations to do so, as at some point before the release of the announcement of the Displacement Window the FCC will freeze all minor change applications to provide a stable database for stations filing in the window.

All LPTV stations and TV translators still operating in analog will have to be operating in digital by the end of the repacking – July 13, 2021. Other details about the length of the construction permits granted to displaced stations, and conditions under which these stations can get extensions of their CPs, are also set out in the public notice.

So LPTV and TV translators need to be getting ready for this window, either by looking for new channels or potentially at channel sharing with other stations – low power or full-power stations as recently authorized by the FCC (see our article here). Their future direction is now becoming at least a bit clearer after all the uncertainty created by the incentive auction and repacking process.