FCC committee proposes new class of television station

An FCC advisory committee on digital technology has recommended that broadcasters be allowed to sublease digital spectrum to qualified applicants, creating a new “S” class of television station.

The idea was proposed by the Media Access Project, a consumer activist group for digital technologies. The concept was designed to promote media diversity by allowing economically disadvantaged groups to run television stations without having to invest the full amount of capital needed for a regular station.

“The concept of an S Class Licenses is that a DTV licensee could voluntarily assign the right to operate a DTV subchannel to another entity, and thus essentially monetize the channel,” the FCC committee said.

MAP’s S Class proposal refines the Diversity Committee’s DTV share-time concept, the committee said. In both formulations, the relationship between the DTV station and the subchannel owner would be analogous to the relationship between the owner of a condominium building and the owners of condominium units in the building.

The DTV subchannel or HD channel licensee would control its channel’s content, while its engineering would continue to be handled by the DTV or FM station licensee for a fee. In this paradigm, the DTV subchannel or HD channel licensee’s control of its channel’s programming is analogous to a residential condominium owner’s enjoyment of his unit, while the DTV subchannel or HD channel’s engineering is analogous to the condominium building owner’s management of the building’s common areas.

Under the committee’s proposal, the S Class license holder would have to lease back spectrum to the main station if it needed the capacity to broadcast HD content, up to six hours per day. Also, no more than 50 percent of the broadcast day on the S Class station could be devoted to “commercial matter.”