The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or the “Commission”) has announced in a public notice on March 19, 2019, that it will lift the 9-year old freeze on applications for displacement relief and digital companion channels by Low Power Television and TV Translator stations (together, “LPTV”).  Applications will be accepted starting April 18, 2019.

The new filing opportunity is only for applications by displaced stations.  Applications for channel changes by stations that are not displaced will not be accepted; nor will applications filed by new stations for construction permits be accepted.

The lifting of the freeze is permanent, unlike a limited-time application “window.”  This filing opportunity will remain open indefinitely.  Processing of applications will be on a first-come, first-serve basis, in contrast to a window, where all applications filed during the window are treated as having been filed on the final day of the window.  Since priority will be given based on the date of filing, stations that hoped to obtain a channel change but could not get one during the Special Displacement Window that closed on June 1, 2018, should file by 11:59 p.m. on April 18, 2019, and not one minute later.

As we have previously reported in CommLawBlog, the freeze started in 2010 and was further tightened in 2017. Its purpose was to make sure that LPTV applications did not cause changes in the database while full power and Class A TV stations were being repacked into Channels 2-36, and LPTV stations displaced by the repack were looking for new channels).  Now that the assignment of all full power and Class A stations to new channels has been completed, and displaced LPTV stations that were given priority because they were operating on April 13, 2017, have had an opportunity to file for new channels, the FCC is opening the door for all other displaced stations to file.

The freeze on minor changes by existing stations (i.e., power, height, and site changes involving a move of not more than 30 miles but no channel change) was lifted effective July 3, 2018.  However, the freeze on channel changes, apart from those eligible during the Special Displacement and Settlement Windows, was not lifted and will remain in effect until April 18, 2019.

To file for a new channel starting on April 18, an LPTV station must be displaced. This means it must cause or receive a prohibited level of interference from a full power or Class A station that is authorized on Channels 2-36 or be authorized on Channels 38-51 regardless of interference.  Also eligible to file will be the relatively few remaining analog-only LPTV stations, which will be permitted to file for new digital companion channels, although only if they do not hold a valid construction permit to flash cut to digital on their analog channel.

The requirement to have been on the air by April 13, 2017, which was a restriction on eligibility for the Special Displacement Window, will no longer apply once the freeze is lifted on April 18.  Therefore, displaced stations that first received a license after April 13, 2017, and stations authorized by construction permits that have never been built, are both eligible to apply.

Stations that filed for new channels during the Special Displacement Window, but did not receive grants because their applications were mutually exclusive with applications by others, were given an opportunity to resolve conflicts by moving to new channels in a “Settlement Window” that closed on January 10, 2019.  Applicants that did not amend to propose a different channel and did not otherwise settle with competing applicants by January 10 may abandon their Special Displacement Window applications and file new displacement applications starting April 18.  However, they will have to protect all applications filed during the Special Displacement Window and amendments filed during Settlement Window; and they will lose any priority enjoyed by their earlier applications.

The FCC recently announced procedures for displaced LPTV stations to seek reimbursement from a government fund for their channel change expenses. (Watch for a CommLawBlog post soon.)  Only stations that file during the Special Displacement Window and ultimately receive a grant will be eligible to apply for reimbursement.  Stations that filed but did not receive a grant because of mutual exclusivity – and that choose to file new applications starting April 18 – will not lose their reimbursement eligibility. Stations that were not eligible to file during the Special Displacement window will not be eligible for expense reimbursement.  If you filed during the Special Displacement window and your application was dismissed on the ground that it was ineligible, you may wish to consult with an attorney as to your option

We will be ready to assist clients with application filings on April 18.  But we offer the usual warning: there will likely be many stations seeking to file on that date, so let us know well ahead of time if you will want our assistance.