Sixteen more Class A stations face the loss of their Class A status.
The thinning of the ranks of Class A TV stations continues. We reported recently that the FCC has started to propose the downgrading of a number of Class A television stations to LPTV status, presumably to make room for the almighty broadband to take over TV spectrum. The stations targeted in the first round of that effort had (a) failed to file Children’s TV Reports and (b) failed to respond to FCC’s inquiries about the whereabouts of those reports. (The Commission later fined a number of other stations which had also failed to file kidvid reports; they escaped the dreaded downgrading because they had at least responded to the FCC’s inquiries.)
Another 16 Class A’s now face the prospect of being demoted to LPTV status.
Like the stations we’ve already reported on, the latest batch of targeted Class A’s got onto the FCC’s radar by not filing Children’s TV Reports. In response to the FCC inquiry about those missing reports, each of the three licensees (one holding 13 licenses, another two, and a third one) acknowledged their respective failures to file. Each also acknowledged that their stations had operated, at most, only sporadically over the last several years. Two blamed the economy for the extended darkness; one claimed that its non-operation – its two stations had operated a total of less than four months in the last five years – arose from a “need to locate permanent transmitter sites”. Two of the three licensees’ responses also indicated that their stations no longer had main studios (much less public files located their main studios).
In order to qualify for Class A status, a licensee must maintain a main studio and broadcast a minimum of 18 hours per day, with an average of at least three hours weekly of locally-produced programming and three hours of children’s programming. From the responses described above, the Commission concluded that none of the 16 stations still qualified to be Class A – accordingly, they’re looking to be downgraded.
The FCC suggests that Class A stations who find themselves temporarily unable to meet the minimum regulatory requirements for Class A status may, in some circumstances, be eligible for special temporary authority to operate at variance from those requirements. But such STA would be only temporary, and would not cover extended time periods of noncompliance, particularly when the reason for the STA is financial distress. The Commission is particularly skeptical about stations that close their main studios and/or de-construct their transmission facilities. The result of this strict approach, of course, is to impose the greatest hardship on the most vulnerable.
The other side of the argument is that no one is proposing to take away licenses; rather, all that’s involved here is a status downgrade (from Class A to LPTV), which still allows the stations to resume operation. Whether there is a difference between taking away the license and taking away only Class A status remains to be seen after we know more about the prospects of space remaining for LPTV stations after implementation of the FCC’s plan to truncate the TV spectrum by 10-20 channels.