FCC announces immediate freeze on applications for new/major change digital LPTV/TV translator permits

With no warning – as is almost invariably the case when it comes to freezes – the FCC has terminated acceptance of any applications for new low power TV or TV translator stations or major changes in existing stations in all areas, rural and non-rural alike. The freeze is effective immediately with the release of its October 28 Public Notice.

The imposition of this freeze marks an ominous reversal. After an earlier freeze of several years, the FCC began accepting LPTV/translator applications in rural areas only in August, 2009, with the further promise of an opportunity to file for non-rural areas within a matter of months.  Initially, that later opportunity was to open up in January, 2010, but it never materialized. The January date first got pushed back to July, and then was postponed indefinitely

The reason? The need to evaluate “reallocation and repacking” proposals and their impact on future licensing of low power television facilities. That, of course, refers to the Commission’s stated goal of re-purposing some 120 megahertz of TV spectrum for use as part of the National Broadband Plan.

The supposed dearth of broadband spectrum has been thought to be concentrated in urban areas – which would suggest that the Commission should have no problem leaving open the filing window for rural stations. But FCC staff have also suggested that wireless companies will not be satisfied unless they have a swath of clean spectrum that is available nationwide.  The fact that this latest freeze slams the window shut on rural applications, too – a fact which will paralyze the growth of rural translators to relay new full power digital program streams as well as new locally-oriented LPTV stations in small communities – suggests that the FCC is indeed working to keep the possibility of such a clean, nationwide swath in play.

There are a couple of narrow exceptions to the freeze: Applications for displacement relief will continue to be accepted from stations above Channel 51 or those who are truly forced off their channels; ditto for flash-cut and digital companion applications by existing LPTV stations.

Processing of previously filed applications is not mentioned in the FCC’s notice, so presumably  those applications will continue to move through the pipeline. Applicants already on file would do well to keep their fingers crossed.