The FCC today issued a Public Notice instructing applicants for new analog low power TV (LPTV) stations to amend their pending short-form applications by May 24th in order to specify digital operations. If the short-form application is not amended by May 24th it will be dismissed. As some of you may recall, way back in 2000 the FCC opened a window for the filing of new LPTV stations. Rather than full applications, at the time applicants were simply required to file a "short form" tech-box application specifying the basic parameters of the proposal. And of course, at the time the proposals were all for new analog LPTV facilities. Over the years, many of these proposals were found to be non-mutually exclusive, and the applicant applied for and received construction permits for new LPTV stations. Other proposals were conflicted and were included in an FCC Auction to resolve the conflict, which also resulted in the grant of new construction permits. Many others, however, remained mutually exclusive and deadlocked. The FCC has now decided that, as it will no longer grant any new analog LPTV stations, any remaining proposals that are still pending must be amended to specify digital operations.
Today’s action is consistent with the Commission’s pronouncement made last Summer when it announced the opportunity to commence filings for new LPTV stations in rural areas (which we wrote about here). At that time, the FCC stated that going forward it would grant only digital LPTV stations and not any new analog LPTVs. It’s unclear why today’s Public Notice was not released last year once that decision was made, but in any event today’s action would appear to be one more step towards the ultimate transition of all LPTV stations to digital operations, which was mentioned as part of last week’s National Broadband Plan (which we discussed here). While the Commission has not yet set a date for the transition of existing analog LPTV stations to digital, the Broadband Plan suggested accelerating that process to migrate all broadcast television to digital operations. However, the Plan also suggested potentially repacking the television spectrum, encouraging the consolidation of television operations, and changing interference protections for teleivsion stations, so whether the Commission would move forward with requiring analog LPTV stations to convert to DTV without clarifying some of these new proposals and their impact on low power television stations is unclear. One other observation: with the potential conversion to digital operations looming, the days of analog LPTV stations operating on TV Channel 6 and broadcasting audio intended to be received by FM radios would appear to be numbered.
Returning to today’s Public Notice, because full applications have not previously been filed for the pending proposals listed in the Notice, the FCC is requiring that applicants now amend the short-form applications by filing a complete long-form application. The Commission is also requiring that applicants pay the $705 filing fee required for a major change. (Just as an aside, the FCC filing fee required for new LPTV stations or major changes to existing stations at the time these proposals were filed in 2000 was $570.)
The good news is that given the time, cost, and hassle involved in preparing and filing a full application to specify digital and the $705 filing fee it is likely that many of the proposals listed in this Public Notice will not be pursued, meaning that they will be dismissed, potentially breaking the log-jam that has prevented these proposals from being granted thus far. But there is no guarantee that the remaining proposals will become grantable as a result. It is very possible that an application will continue to be mutually exclusive to other proposals, in which case an auction would still be required to resolve the conflict. But if parties are at all interested in preserving the opportunity to get a new LPTV on these channels in these places, they will need to amend and pay the fee by May 24th to keep the application alive.