A freeze on technical improvements by full-power TV stations is about to come to an end after more than 15 years. Television stations have been unable to improve their coverage areas by a freeze first instituted in 2004 to allow the FCC to deal with a stable database of television stations during the transition to digital operations. After that, the freeze was soon reinstated to facilitate the incentive auction and subsequent repacking of the TV band into less spectrum so that TV channels above 37 could be auctioned for use for new wireless communications technologies. The FCC’s Media Bureau yesterday issued a Public Notice announcing that it will finally lift the filing freeze – that thaw to be effective 15 days after the Public Notice is published in the Federal Register.
Specifically, the Bureau will lift the restrictions on the following types of applications:
- Petitions for rulemaking to change channels in the DTV Table of Allotments (where a station moves from one channel to another) or petitions to swap channels between two existing stations.
- Petitions for rulemaking for new DTV allotments which could give broadcasters the opportunity to apply for new TV stations.
- Petitions for rulemaking to change communities of license.
- Modification applications that increase a full power or Class A station’s service area beyond an area that is already served.
In recent weeks, we saw the FCC accept a number of Petitions for Rulemaking to change the channels of VHF television stations to allow these stations to operate on the UHF channels that have been found to be more conducive to digital television operations (see our mention of those petitions in our article here). These appear to have been a foreshadowing of this action which will free TV stations to improve their technical facilities without having to seek the waivers that were hard to come by over the last decade and a half. Look for stations to take advantage of these opportunities (which could be coupled with even more technical improvements to more fully serve a station’s DMA if the FCC adopts its proposals to expand the use of Distributed Transmission Systems – especially with the roll-out of ATSC 3.0, the Next Generation television transmission standard).
TV operators should keep an eye out for the effective date of these changes and begin planning for the opportunities that may be open to them. But, with any technical change, there may be some downsides – and the Public Notice warns of the possibility that changes by full-power stations could impact LPTV stations or TV translators that operate as secondary stations. These stations can be forced to change channels or cease operations if a full-power station improves its facilities in a way that would result in a technical conflict with the current facilities of the LPTV or translator station. Licensees of these stations should thus be on the alert for applications by full-power stations that may impact their operations. Changes are coming!