On March 30, 2023, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) seeking comment on the following proposed rules for a one-year filing window for eligible LPTV stations to apply for conversion to Class A designation: 

Eligibility Requirements 

The Commission proposes three eligibility requirements that LPTV stations must meet to apply for conversion to Class A status, which include compliance with:  (a) operating criteria during an eligibility period, (b) a Designated Market Area requirement, and (c) interference requirements for Class A stations.  Details regarding these eligibility requirements are below. 

Compliance with Operating Criteria During the 90-day Eligibility Period   

The FCC proposes to limit eligibility to LPTV stations that met three operating criteria during the period between October 7, 2022, and January 5, 2023 (the 90-day “Eligibility Period”).  The station must have:  (1) broadcast at least 18 hours per day, (2) broadcast an average of three hours per week of locally produced programming, and (3) complied with the operating rules for LPTV stations.   

Under the proposed rule, the FCC would require that applicants certify compliance with these three criteria and submit supporting documentation.  It specifically seeks comment on what types of supporting documents the FCC should require. 

As proposed, TV translators and stations that were silent at any point during the Eligibility Period would be ineligible.     

Compliance with a Designated Market Area Requirement on January 5, 2023 

The FCC proposes to require that the station, as of January 5, 2023, operate in a Designated Market Area (“DMA”) with no greater than 95,000 television households.   

Under that rule, the FCC proposes to base its definition of “operation” on the location of the station’s transmission facilities.  It invites comments on that definition, as well as possible alternatives, including a definition based on the DMA in which the station’s protected contour falls. 

In addition, the FCC seeks comment on its proposed use of Nielsen DMAs to define a station’s local market.  The Commission noted that the LPTV Broadcasters’ Association (“LPTVBA”) advocates for a standard based on Metropolitan Statistical Areas (“MSAs”) and Rural Service Areas (“RSAs”) as defined by the Office of Management and Budget.  MSAs include “core areas containing a substantial population nucleus,” as well as adjacent communities highly integrated both socially and economically with the core area.  RSAs include all areas not classified as urban. 

Compliance with Interference Requirements for Class A Licensees  

The FCC proposes that applicants demonstrate compliance with interference requirements for Class A stations. 

Application Process 

The FCC proposes styling these Class A conversion applications as modifications of existing licenses.  It also proposes reviewing facilities as they existed on the application date. The FCC would then refuse to consider applications for other modifications submitted in conjunction with the Class A modification applications.  

As proposed, applicants holding construction permits to modify a license would need to either license the facility as modified prior to applying for Class A status or apply with the station’s unmodified facilities and later seek modification after obtaining Class A status. 

Requirements Upon Filing Application 

The FCC proposes that, after filing an application, stations comply with operating rules for full power stations, including children’s programming and Online Public Inspection File requirements.  As with the operating criteria during the Eligibility Period, the FCC likewise proposes compliance with the minimum daily broadcast and locally produced programming rules, commencing on the day the station files for Class A conversion. 

License Standards 

In addition to requiring converted stations to comply with the full power operating rules and the eligibility requirements discussed above, the FCC seeks comment on a proposal to end a station’s Class A eligibility if its DMA grows in excess of 95,000 television households after licensing pursuant to the Class A conversion window. 

For more information on the filing window or to discuss commenting on any of these proposed rules, please contact your attorney at Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth.