While the pandemic has focused much attention on streaming television services, at least some companies believe that over-the-air television still has a future, as evidenced by recent proposals to allocate new TV channels which, if adopted, could result in brand new TV stations. As we wrote here, last year the FCC lifted the freeze on applications for new TV allotments and for changes in existing stations, as the repacking of the TV band following the incentive auction has finally ended. The lifting of the freeze, which had existed in some form for about 17 years, resulted in many requests for changes in the facilities of existing TV stations. As we wrote here in one of our weekly updates on regulatory matters, most were proposals for changes in the channels of existing stations from VHF to UHF channels. Almost weekly since we first noted those requests, we have seen the FCC ask for comments on other proposals for channel swaps by existing stations. UHF channels are, of course, seen to have better reception in a digital environment and are especially suitable for the transmission of the new ATSC 3.0 Next Gen television signals, so stations with VHF operations are looking to move. But, recently, we have also seen requests for allocations for new TV stations being put out for public comment.
The two proposals that we have seen thus far (here and here), both filed by the same company that owns many TV stations across the country (including many in smaller markets), are for stations outside of major markets. Given the compacting of the television band over the last two decades, first by the conversion to digital and then as part of the incentive auction process, there simply is not much spectrum for TV operations in most major markets. But the number of proposals for stations to change from VHF to UHF operations shows that in some smaller markets there are still UHF channels available for application, and there are likely VHF opportunities in many other markets (one of the two recent proposals for new channels being for a VHF channel). These proposals for new TV allocations show that there is still interest in over-the-air TV even in more rural areas. Certainly, as ATSC 3.0 is built out offering a variety of non-television services (from data transmission to audio services), there will be a desire to make these services available nationwide, perhaps giving some glimpses of the future use of these new channels. Watch as more proposals are filed at the Commission and, if you are interested in a new TV station, perhaps your opportunity is coming. If these proposals are adopted, the channels will be auctioned by the FCC at some point in the future.