Media Bureau announces freeze on TV channel change rulemaking petitions – effective May 31, 2011

For more than a year – since the FCC first started making noises about possibly “re-purposing” their spectrum as part of the National Broadband Plan – television broadcasters have been living under an ominous sense of impending doom . . .  or, if not “doom”, at least, major disruption. 

That ominous sense just got more ominous. 

In a terse public notice, the Media Bureau has announced a freeze on “the acceptance of rulemaking petitions to change television channels”, effective immediately (i.e., as of May 31, 2011). The purpose of the freeze is to “permit the Commission to evaluate its reallocation and repacking proposals and their impact on the Post-Transition Table of DTV Allotments”. The Bureau also points out that licensees have been able to submit channel change petitions since May, 2008 (when the last pre-DTV transition freeze was lifted), so it figures that everybody’s had plenty of time to determine whether they might prefer a different channel.

The freeze could indicate that the Commission is already narrowing down its re-purposing options; alternatively, it might mean merely that the Commission hopes to minimize any complications that would arise from a continually changing DTV Table of Allotments. Whatever may be the case, if you’re a full-power TV licensee, it looks like the channel you happen to be on now is the channel you’re going to be on for the foreseeable future. Presumably, the Commission will eventually decide how it can shuffle spectrum around to squeeze 120 MHz or so out of the TV band. In that event, assuming that Congress goes along with things, you may find yourself moved around in what’s left of the TV band. (Rulemaking petitions that were already on file with the Commission’s Secretary as of May 31 will continue to be processed, but no others. So if you are hoping to change and were lucky enough to get your proposal on file before May 31, congrats.)