While the FCC has not yet started a proceeding to set rules for the auction of television spectrum for broadband purposes, the Commission is taking steps to clear the spectrum in other ways. Two weeks ago, we wrote about the FCC’s actions proposing to remove the Class A designation from certain LPTV stations that had not met their children’s television obligations. Since then, the FCC has gone further – proposing to take away Class A status for stations that had been off the air for significant periods of time – even with FCC permission as, according to the FCC, they could not have met the requirement for Class A TV stations that they must provide significant local programming each week (see FCC releases here, here and here, all proposing the termination of Class A status for stations that had been off the air for much of the last two years). Given that Class A stations are as protected in the same way as a full-power TV station from being permanently displaced by the FCC in any spectrum clearing for broadband, the loss of Class A status may well deny these stations a place on the dial after any repacking of the TV band to accommodate a spectrum auction, or they may not be able to receive any share of the proceeds from any incentive auction that would be available to a Class A station that decided to turn in its license in exchange for compensation from auction proceeds.
In another decision released this week, the FCC denied the request of a television station to move from Hagerstown Maryland to a close-in Washington DC suburb. While part of the basis for the denial was perceived procedural issues, the FCC also specifically stated that "the Commission’s priorities no longer support such a move" of a station into a Top 10 market while it was considering the consolidation of the TV band to clear parts of it to be auctioned for broadband. So it appears that, for the foreseeable future, there will be no move-ins of rural TV stations toward any major market.
And don’t expect to get any slack for rule violations by a Class A TV station, as it seems clear that the FCC is looking to clear the TV band, to the extent possible, to make its job in the incentive auction easier (see this $13,000 fine for a Class A TV station that did not have all required children’s television reports in its public file). With license renewal coming up for TV stations starting in June, TV stations, especially Class A stations, need to make sure that there houses are in order, as the FCC certainly will be looking carefully.