Court Overrules FCC on VHF Channel Relocation
WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court has ruled to allow the owner of two
VHF TV station licenses to move them to different markets. In doing so, the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has reversed a previous decision by
the Federal Communications Commission to deny the transfer. The case involves
PMCM TV, a privately owned broadcast company based in Wall, N.J. that held VHF frequency
assignments in Nevada and Wyoming. Following the 2009 digital transition, PMCM
petitioned the FCC to transfer the licenses to New Jersey and Delaware, which
that were left without VHF assignments. Federal law requires that each state
have at least one VHF TV station. The commission denied PMCM’s request and
auctioned licenses in 2011. PMCM qualified to bid, but the licenses were won by
Western Pacific Broadcast, LLC, a company formed by Richland Towers in Tampa,
Fla., which paid around $4 million for the pair.
PMCM’s attorneys appealed. The court reversed the FCC on Friday because its
“decision conflicts with the statute’s purpose, and because the appellant can
move its channels without creating interference.”
The linchpin of the case was the definition of the word, “reallocation.” PMCM
took it to apply to operating VHF stations that agreed to terminate service and
move to the unserved state. The FCC took it to mean “the shifting of a channel
allocation from one community to another.” The court wasn’t particularly
pleased with either interpretation.
“Setting aside the parties’ unilluminating dispute over the meaning of
‘reallocation and focusing on the two things we do know about Congressional
intent—that Congress passed the Communications Act to ensure interference-free
broadcasting… and that every state has at least one VHF station if technically
feasible, we think [the]meaning becomes clear despite the statute’s linguistic
defects,” the ruling stated.
The court said that the statute “directs the commission to grant any proposed
technically feasible reallocation to unserved states.”
PMCM was represented by Fletcher,
Heald & Hildreth.