Class A deadlines remain in effect.
Last October, we wrote about FCC proposals looking toward the future of Low Power Television (LPTV) stations after the upcoming incentive spectrum auction and associated repacking the TV spectrum into a smaller number of channels. One of the FCC’s proposals was to defer the September 1, 2015, deadline for LPTV stations and TV translators to complete construction of digital facilities and to terminate analog operation. The FCC tentatively concluded that it should grant that relief, because LPTV licensees should not be forced to invest in new facilities until they know whether they will be able to find channels after the spectrum repack.
While the FCC’s overall LPTV rulemaking has not yet been wrapped up, the Media Bureau has now announced an immediate suspension of the September 1, 2015, deadline for LPTV and TV translator stations. As a result, those stations may, if they wish, continue to transmit analog signals indefinitely, until the FCC says otherwise. There is no need to file applications to extend the expiration date of granted digital construction permits; in fact, the FCC does not want to have to deal with extension applications.
The suspension applies ONLY to the expiration date of construction permits for an existing analog LPTV or translator station’s initial digital facilities. This includes both flash-cuts from analog to digital on the same channel and permits to build companion digital stations on a different channel. The extension does NOT apply to the expiration date of construction permits for modification of facilities of stations that are already on the air with digital signals. Those permits still expire on the date indicated on the face of the permit.
The suspension also does NOT apply to any Class A stations. Class A stations are still subject to two deadlines: (a) They may not transmit analog signals after September 1, 2015, and (b) their signals will be protected in the spectrum repack only as the signals are authorized as of May 29, 2015.
Analog Class A stations that have not completed construction of digital facilities by May 29, 2015, will have only their licensed analog coverage protected in the repack. To obtain protection for their digital coverage area (which is usually larger than the analog area), they must have completed construction and filed an application for license to cover their digital construction permit by May 29; it is not necessary that the license application have been granted by that date.
If a Class A station does not complete digital construction by May 29, it will still be subject to the September 1 deadline for all Class A stations to complete digital construction. Under appropriate circumstances, a six-month extension of the September 1 deadline may be requested; but extension applications must be filed by May 1, 2015, to take advantage of a lenient evaluation standard. After that, extensions will be granted only where the circumstances delaying construction are beyond the station’s control and were not reasonably foreseeable – a standard that is strictly applied.
So LPTV stations and TV translators may choose whether to complete digital construction now or wait in limbo and see how the chips fall after the repack. Class A stations must get a move on it and enter the digital world by May 29 to get protection for their digital facilities; and even if they don’t make that deadline, they will still have to exit the analog world forever by September 1 (or at least file an extension application by May 1 if they can’t make the digital transition by September 1).
Stations that go dark because of inability to complete digital construction by the later of September 1 or their extended deadline (assuming that they request and are granted an extension) must notify the FCC within 10 days of going dark, file a request for authority to remain dark after 30 days, and get back on the air no later than one year after they go dark. Some rulemaking commenters have requested a change in the policy that calls for immediate license expiration for stations off the air more than a year. However, that policy is based on Section 312(g) of the Communications Act. While the FCC may have some limited discretion to waive that provision, the FCC will not generally do so.