Media Bureau announces “Pre-Auction Licensing Deadline” by which full power and Class A TV facilities must be licensed to be eligible for protection when the repack happens.

If you’re a full power or Class A TV licensee and you’d like your facilities to be eligible for protection in the channel repacking process, heads up. You’ve got until May 29, 2015 to get those facilities licensed (or at least to get a license application for them on file). That’s the latest word from the Media Bureau, which has officially designated May 29, 2015 as the Pre-Auction Licensing Deadline.

Earlier on in the development of the Incentive Auction (and related spectrum repacking) process, the Commission had concluded that all full power and Class A facilities that had been licensed by February 22, 2012 would get mandatory protection. But it also acknowledged that “discretionary protection” should be afforded to a separate subset of station facilities that had not obtained a digital license by that date. To qualify for discretionary protection, those facilities would have to be licensed by some “pre-auction licensing deadline” that would eventually be announced.

Now that deadline has been announced.

Facilities eligible for discretionary protection include:

  • Full power facilities authorized in outstanding construction permits issued to effectuate a channel substitution for a licensed station. (This includes CPs for stations seeking to relocate from channel 51 pursuant to voluntary relocation agreements with Lower 700 MHz A Block licensees.)
  • Modified facilities of full power and Class A stations that were authorized by construction permits granted on or before April 5, 2013, (the date of the Media Bureau’s 2013 Freeze Public Notice), or that have been authorized by construction permits that were granted after April 5, 2013 and are in compliance with the Freeze Public Notice. (We reported on the Freeze Public Notice here, if you’d like to refresh your memory.) 
  • Class A stations’ initial digital facilities that were not initially licensed until after February 22, 2012, including those that were not authorized until after the Freeze Public Notice.   

To be clear about just what the Bureau has in mind here, we’ll quote:

[A]ll facilities in these discretionary protection categories … must be licensed or have an application for a license to cover the construction permit on file by May 29, 2015, in order for these facilities to be protected in the repacking process.

The only exception applies to stations affected by the destruction of the World Trade Center. Folks in that particularly narrow category have the option of electing to “protect either their licensed Empire State Building facility or a proposed new facility at One World Trade Center” so long as that new facility has been applied for and authorized in a construction permit granted by the Pre-Auction Licensing Deadline.

Class A licensees looking to protect their digital facilities should pay particular attention here. That’s because, while the Commission has technically given them to September 1, 2015 to complete construction and licensing of their digital facilities, that particular deadline is irrelevant to spectrum repacking protection concerns. So Class A’s that don’t have their digital facilities licensed by May 29, 2015 will be given repacking protection only with respect to the coverage area and population served by their analog facilities.

One more point of interest for all full power and Class A stations looking for repacking protection: May 29, 2015 also marks the deadline for correcting any errors that licensees “may have made in providing [the Commission] their operating parameters” if the licensees want to protect the correct, as opposed to the erroneous, parameters. Corrective modifications will be protected if a modification application that complies with the Freeze Public Notice is filed and granted, and a covering license application is filed, by May 29, 2015.

Finally, it should be highlighted – even though the Commission buries this important nugget in a footnote – that the Pre-Auction Licensing Deadline will also determine which facilities are eligible for voluntary relinquishment of spectrum usage rights in the Incentive Auction. In other words, what you have licensed (or have filed a license for) as of May 29, 2015 is what will be eligible for the auction, should you choose to participate. Now would be a good time to check the Commission’s database, just to be sure.