FCC Sets Deadlines for LPTV, TV Translator and Class A Stations to Convert to Digital - And Gives Hints When Television Spectrum May Be Reclaimed for Broadband

by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
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The deadlines for the digital conversion of LPTV stations, TV translators and Class A TV stations were announced on Friday, in an Order where the FCC also provided some indication of their expected timetable for the reclamation of some of the television spectrum for broadband use – and that expectation is nowhere near as aggressive as originally announced two years ago in the FCC’s Broadband Report. The digital conversion of LPTV and translator stations will happen by September 1, 2015. The FCC also ordered an earlier December 31, 2011 deadline for the digital conversion and clearing of the reclaimed spectrum by those stations still operating in parts of the former television band (Channels 52 through 69) that have already been reclaimed and mostly auctioned for wireless uses. The digital conversion of Class A stations and other operational issues were also discussed in the order. The details of the order may also reveal the Commission's thinking on the proposed reclamation of other portions of the TV spectrum for broadband use, and of the use of Channels 5 and 6 for radio. Details on the deadlines and other actions by the FCC in this order are set out below.

Conversion Deadline and Process for Stations in Core TV Band

LPTV, translator and Class A stations (referred to in the rest of this article simply as "LPTV stations" except with respect to the specific Class A rules discussed below) will have a hard deadline for digital conversion of September 1, 2015. As of that date, all analog television operations in the US will cease. If LPTV stations do not already have a construction permit authorizing digital operations, they must file for such a permit by May 1, 2015. All existing construction permits for a digital flash-cut on the LPTV station’s current channel are automatically extended by this Order until the September 15, 2015 deadline. This does not extend outstanding construction permits for digital companion channels. Extensions of those permits must be requested by thepermittee.

Any new construction permit for a flash cut or a companion channel will have a deadline of September 1, 2015. The FCC did recognize that there might be reasons why a station can’t meet that deadline, and allowed for requests for 6 month extensions of that date – but such requests must be filed by May 1, 2015. Waiver grounds would include unforeseeable events and financial hardship. Extensions would only be granted until May 1, 2016 for the construction of digital facilities. However, stations receiving such an extension will still need to terminate their analog operations by September 1, 2015. They cannot continue to operate in analog during this extended construction period. While the FCC recognizes that there may be circumstances that arise that delay construction after May 1, 2015, any extension request filed after that May 1, 2015 deadline will only be granted by meeting the stricter tolling provisions normally applied to construction permits – justifying extensions only for Acts of God, administrative or judicial review of the FCC authorization, judicial review of zoning or other land use affecting the construction of the station, the need for international coordination of the construction of a station, or the bankruptcy of a licensee. Such extensions are granted only for the length of the matter causing the delay – and also will not alter the September 1, 2015 analog termination date.

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