This week, the FCC announced that it will begin accepting applications for new digital-only LPTV and translator stations in rural areas as of August 25, 2009. Beginning on that date, the FCC will also begin to accept applications for major changes to existing analog and digital LPTV and TV translators in rural areas, and applications for digital companion channels (DCCs) for existing analog stations in rural areas. By "rural areas", the FCC means stations that specify a transmitter site that is located more than 75 miles away from the reference coordinates of the 100 U.S. cities listed in the FCC’s Public Notice. Applications for new analog facilities will not be accepted. This filing opportunity will be on a first-come, first-served processing basis, and mutually exclusive proposals will be resolved by auction. A copy of the FCC's Public Notice is available here.

While this window is for new stations, major changes, and DCCs in rural areas, prior to that date all existing LPTV, TV translator, and Class A television stations may wish to review their present options for converting to DTV. The Commission’s Public Notice reminds existing stations that they may file an application for on-channel digital conversion (i.e. flash-cut) at any time. In order to retain processing priority, existing stations are encouraged to file flash-cut applications prior to August 25th, and certainly by January 25, 2010, at which point the FCC will open the door for new digital licensing opportunities on a nationwide first-come, first-served, as discussed below.

Accordingly, if existing stations do not yet hold a construction permit authorizing digital operations (or else have an application for such authority pending), they should consider filing for such authority now in advance of these upcoming filing opportunities. Similarly, existing stations that wish to displace to an alternate channel, and which can comply with the FCC's rules for a displacement, should file for displacement authorizations prior to these dates. FCC construction permits have a three year construction period. So even if a station obtains a CP for a flash-cut conversion or for a displacement, it will have some time before it must implement that change.

Although the initial filing opportunity commencing August 25th is restricted to rural areas, the Commission will begin to accept applications for new digital-only LPTV and TV translators stations, major modifications to existing analog and digital stations, and, in the case of incumbent analog stations, for digital companion channels, without geographic restriction beginning on January 25, 2010. Once again the applications will be on a first-come, first-served basis, and no applications for new analog facilities will be accepted.

Again, existing stations are encouraged to review their plans for converting to digital and consider whether they need to file an application to flash-cut to digital on their current channel, or else displace to an alternative channel (assuming that a basis exists for displacing) prior to these upcoming dates.