Need for a “stable database” to assist in development of “repacking methodologies” puts TV mod applications on ice.

Attention all full-power and Class A TV licensees!!! The Media Bureau has placed a freeze on the filing and processing of most modification applications for full power and Class A television stations, effective April 5, 2013

As of April 5, the Bureau will no longer routinely accept any applications from full-power or Class A television stations proposing modifications that would increase the station’s currently authorized (by license or granted construction permit) contour in any direction. The single exception to the freeze applies to certain Class A stations filing minor change applications to implement their transition to digital broadcasting. (The freeze may also be waived for other licensees in exceptional circumstances.)

Also frozen is the processing of any already pending application that would increase a station’s protected service area in any direction. However, in announcing the freeze the Bureau has provided that applicants with such pending applications will have a 60-day period to amend to specify facilities that do not increase the station’s service area. Any such applications that are not amended will be held by the Commission and processed only after the adoption of final rules regarding the Incentive Auction.

The freeze comes as part of the ongoing Incentive Auction proceeding. According to the Bureau, it is continuing to develop “repacking methodologies” to be employed in the auction. That effort requires a “stable database” of full power and Class A facilities. To accomplish both this goal and that of ultimately reclaiming the maximum amount of spectrum possible, the Bureau has now determined that it’s got to slam the door on applications that would expand a broadcast station’s use of spectrum. 

Readers may recall that, in the Incentive Auction NPRM, the Commission expressed an intention to protect only those facilities that had been licensed (or were subject to a covering license application) as of February 22, 2012. At the same time, however, the Commission acknowledged that it had the authority to provide greater protection – an acknowledgement that gave rise to some hope that the licensed-as-of-February22 limitation might not be hard and fast. Bad news.  The Bureau’s freeze notice strongly suggests that no additional protection will be provided. In particular, the notice directs a strong cautionary warning to stations holding construction permits that had not been implemented as of February 22, 2012: Any investment in building out such facilities now could be lost in the (very likely) event that they are not protected in the repacking. 

The Bureau does provide something of a consolation award for stations in that position (i.e., those holding permits for facilities not-built-out-with-a-license-application-pending as of February 22, 2012). The Bureau will accept construction permit applications to revert to the facilities licensed as of February 22, 2012.