FCC Changes DTV Application Cut-off Date to June 20

Last Friday the FCC lifted its freeze on applications to expand DTV coverage, change channels and make other modifications that had been forbidden—with a few exceptions—since August 2004.
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Last Friday the FCC lifted its freeze on applications to expand DTV coverage, change channels and make other modifications that had been forbidden—with a few exceptions—since August 2004. The FCC previously stated in the Third Periodic Report and Order that it expected to lift the freeze in August 2008. If you have been following the bi-weekly DTV Station Status in RF Report, you have noticed the FCC has been moving very quickly to grant applications for post-transition DTV facilities.

The commission said it has received approximately 620 post-transition construction permit applications, and that the Video Division has been processing them, on average, four days from date of receipt.

“As a result of the Commission’s successful expedited processing efforts,” the FCC said, “we have completed our review of, and have granted all applications, except for those requiring international coordination or additional information from the applicant.”

The FCC encouraged stations wishing to maximize to file promptly. It also said stations that filed petitions for reconsideration to modify facilities should file applications, pursuant to the Public Notice, for authorization for maximization “rather than rely on the pendency of their petitions for reconsideration to preserve their ability to maximize in the future.”

Construction permits for maximized facilities will be valid for three years, but the FCC warned that just because an application for maximization or petition for digital channel substitution has been filed or is pending does not exempt a station from complying with construction deadlines for full, authorized DTV facilities established in the Third DTV Periodic Report and Order.

The FCC also clarified that post-transition DTV construction permits that were automatically issued with an expiration of 3:00 a.m. on Feb 17, 2009 are extended to 11:59:59 p.m., local time, on Feb. 17, 2009.

This may be the last opportunity many TV broadcasters will have to expand their coverage. At some point after the June 20, 2008 cut-off date, the FCC will lift the freeze on Class A TV DTV and modification applications. Expanded coverage from Class A stations could block broadcasters from expanding coverage. At some point, the FCC will likely auction off any unused spectrum, further limiting broadcasters’ ability to expand coverage. Stations looking to expand coverage after the cut-off date may find their applications blocked due to increased coverage from adjacent market stations. This is not a good time to take a vacation!

The FCC said it would act quickly after the June 20 cut-off date to approve non-mutually exclusive applications, which may allow some stations time to construct the expanded facilities before the February 17, 2009 transition. Mutually exclusive applications will be granted on the condition that applicants resolve the mutual exclusivity within 30 days of grant. If they don’t, both construction permits will be canceled and the applicants will have to file new applications that protect other applications filed by the June 20 cut-off date.

In my recent RF Technology Column How Well Does High VHF Work for DTV, I warned that most high-VHF DTV stations may not have sufficient effective radiated power to reach indoor antennas and portable TV sets. The FCC’s plan provides a way for many of these stations to resolve this problem. If two stations that would otherwise interfere with each other both file applications to increase power by the same amount, there should be no new interference between them. This could get complicated in the Northeast, where several stations may need to increase power to maintain interference status quo, but it could be worth the effort. Consulting engineers will be very busy the next two weeks. Fortunately the FCC’s 30-day period to resolve mutually exclusive applications will give stations that might have miscalculated an opportunity to fix the application later. Note, however, that for this to work all affected stations, including co-channel and adjacent channel stations facing interference from stations maximizing coverage, have to file applications by June 20, otherwise the applications will be rejected for not protecting stations that didn’t increase power.