Last week, we wrote that the FCC is going ahead with a rulemaking looking at how broadband needs may require some reallocation of the TV spectrum to wireless uses. The initiation of a rulemaking on that issue is planned for the next FCC meeting in late November. With that proceeding about to begin, the FCC today froze all applications for new Low Power Television (LPTV) stations and for TV Translators, and for major changes in existing LPTV and TV translator stations. Over a year ago, after not having accepted applications for a decade during the DTV transition, the FCC allowed the filing of applications for new LPTV stations and TV translators in rural areas. Finding that much of the demand for new translators has been met in these rural areas in the intervening period, the FCC has now determined that, until the spectrum needs for television and broadband are more certain, it would not accept any more applications for these stations. It appears that the long-planned window for LPTV stations in major markets will not happen in the foreseeable future.
The freeze does allow for the filing of minor changes to LPTV and TV translator stations, for applications to flash cut to digital, and for displacement applications if a full-power station precludes the continued operation of such a station on its current channel. LPTV and translator stations still operating on channels 52 through 69, which have already been reallotted for wireless uses, can also file displacement applications during the freeze.
When the FCC recently adopted the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking when LPTV stations would be required to transition to digital, one of the open questions was whether that transition should be delayed until after the FCC’s plans for the TV spectrum are finalized. That thinking – that secondary services like LPTV and TV translators might suffer in any repacking of the TV spectrum – seems to underlie this order. Why allow applications for new LPTV stations, allowing applicants to make investments and other financial decisions, if there is a possibility that the spectrum will be pulled out from under the broadcaster? So LPTV and TV translator operators, like all other TV licensees, will need to wait to see what the ultimate impact on the TV spectrum of the process that the FCC set in motion with the Broadband Plan (and to participate in shaping that future) .