On July 2, NTIA set to close the door on applications for grants to reimburse costs of digital conversion

Last call at the LPTV Free Money Bar.  That would be the grant program opened by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) three years ago to help Low Power TV, Class A TV, TV translator and TV booster stations (for simplicity’s sake, we’ll refer to them all as “LPTV folks”) through the digital transition.  If you’re an LPTV operator hoping to tap into the cash flowing from the NTIA program, you’ve got until 5:00 p.m. ET on July 2, 2012 to get your application into NTIA’s hands.

We described NTIA’s two-part program when it opened up back in 2009.

To refresh your recollection, the first part of the program helped pay for analog-to-digital converters necessary to allow LPTVs and translators to pick up digital input signals and convert them to allow rebroadcast through an analog transmitter.  That ended in June, 2009. 

The second part of the program – which is now coming to a close – is designed to help LPTV folks upgrade to digital transmission capability.  Two grant classes are available: one with a $6,000 per-station cap (for converting existing analog transmitters to digital) and the other with a $20,000 cap (for replacing a transmitter that can’t be converted). 

Priority is given to non-profit organizations and rural broadcasters.  Yes, that means that stations that serve primarily urban areas are completely disqualified.  NTIA uses a point system in conjunction with recommendations of its program staff and geographic distributions to rank all eligible applicants.  While a good point score does not necessarily guarantee a grant, it looks likely that enough funds remain in NTIA’s coffers to fund any qualified applicant.

 To qualify, you must demonstrate that: (a) you held a construction permit or license for an analog station on February 8, 2006; (b) you transmitted an analog signal on or after that date; and (c) you now have either a digital license or at least an application for a license on file (although we have been informally advised by NTIA that they have accepted grant applications where the station is on the air with digital facilities pursuant to special temporary authority).  Also, you must provide proof that you have already paid, in full, all costs for which reimbursement is sought; reimbursements will cover only equipment related to the transmitting plant. 

Final grant applications must be received by NTIA no later than 5:00 p.m. ET on July 2, 2012.  The application can be completed on-line, but submission on paper by overnight delivery service is recommended. 

Stations that have digital equipment on hand and can get it installed and operation, with a license application on file, by July 2 should be sure to apply to NTIA by the deadline.   Bad news for stations that do not already have both (a) an FCC-issued construction permit for digital operation and (b) equipment on site or ready to be shipped.  Folks in that boat probably can’t get on the air by July 2 and so are likely to lose out on the opportunity to obtain a reimbursement grant.

The National Translator Association has asked NTIA to extend the filing deadline, but prospects on that front are not good: the time for the program was set by statute, so any extension would ordinarily require legislative intervention, and the likelihood of such intervention is slim.