New date: TBA

It’s like déjà vu all over again.  A year ago the Commission announced that it would be opening a first-come, first-served opportunity to file for digital LPTV/TV Translator authorizations in non-rural areas as of January 25, 2010.  But just a month before that start-date arrived, the Commission postponed it to July 26, 2010.

Fast forward six months.  Sure enough, with just a month to go before the door to the digital promised land for LPTV/TV Translators was supposed to swing open, the Commission has announced that the filing opportunity has been postponed again – this time until further notice.

Gentlemen, you may turn off your engines.

The reason for this latest postponement should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following the Commission’s activities for the last year or so.  Those activities have been dominated by the National Broadband Plan, which includes a proposal to move 120 megahertz from broadcast television over to the mobile broadband.  With that proposal on the table, the Media Bureau is not inclined to invite a boatload of new applications for use of the TV spectrum.  While some people think that the FCC’s idea of grabbing 10 TV channels is somewhat impractical, the FCC worries that any new applications for TV channels might put some grease on the spectrum and make it harder to grab no matter how sharp the regulatory talons.  So until the Commission has had a chance to evaluate the NBP channel reallocation/repacking proposals, the Media Bureau is going to keep the door closed to most – but not necessarily all – new LPTV/TV Translator applications in non-rural areas.

Some limited filing opportunities in the LPTV/TV Translator services remain.  For instance, the restriction on filing applications in rural areas, lifted on August 25, 2009, remains lifted, so applications may be filed at any time for new stations or any kind of changes in existing rural stations.  (“Rural areas” will continue to be defined as it was in the FCC’s June 29, 2009 public notice.)  Also, existing LPTV/TV Translator/Class A stations in urban areas may file at any time for on-channel digital flash cuts or displacement to new digital channels.  In a new development, existing urban area analog stations will be permitted for the first time to file for digital companion channels starting on July 26, 2010, so that they can operate one analog and one digital channel until the FCC finally shuts down all analog television.

Although the FCC’s public notice doesn’t say so, we also understand that if you have an unbuilt rural station at the fringe of an urban area, you may not file a minor change to go inside the urban area . . . BUT if you build the rural station, you may then move it with a minor change without geographic restriction.