NAB Seeks Thaw on License Modification Freeze

WASHINGTON -- The National Association of Broadcasters has formally requested that the Federal Communications Commission lift its freeze of TV station modification applications. The NAB first ask that the freeze be lifted during an ex partemeeting with FCC staffers April 24. The group’s Rick Kaplan penned an official request to FCC Media Bureau chief Bill Lake outlining the NAB’s concerns with the freeze.

“This freeze is not justified and is having unintended deleterious impacts on the broadcasting industry,” Kaplan said in the letter, dated May 6. “The notice establishing the freeze failed to provide a convincing rationale for bringing the broadcast business to a standstill, and, to date, it still remains uncertain to whom exactly the freeze applies.”

On April 5, the commission issued a Public Notice that put a halt to full-power and Class A low-power TV station modification applications, which Kaplan said, “came as a surprise to the broadcast industry.”

Two weeks after the Notice was issued, the country’s largest manufacturer of transmission antennas announced that it would cease doing business. Industry observers said the freeze was the straw the broke the back of Dielectric, located in Raymond, Maine.

“The implications of Dielectric’s decision to exit the marketplace should not be underestimated,” Kaplan said. “Dielectric was one of only a handful of companies that the broadcast industry not only relies on to keep its transmission facilities up and running, but also would be needed to complete a timely repacking. At this point, as a result of the freeze, the timeframe set forth in the incentive auction legislation no longer appears to be possible.”

Kaplan said the Notice focused on repurposing spectrum but ignored the Congressional statute to preserve broadcast TV service. He said that while the justification was to stabilize the FCC’s TV station database for analyzing repacking methodologies, it did not say which and how many applications were affected by the freeze.

“For example, if only a small number of stations are affected, then the overall stability of the database would not be materially affected and thus imposing a freeze would be unnecessary,” he said. “This is especially true with respect to pending applications, which represent a finite and limited group…”

Kaplan, former chief of the FCC’s Wireless Bureau, went on to say that there was no indication that the Media Bureau considered the impact of imposing the freeze.

“Broadcasters with pending applications have already invested heavily to meet the commission’s requirements for station modifications,” he said. “The Bureau made no discernible attempt to quantify the monetary investment made by those stations or the actual relative value of benefit of instituting a freeze at this point in time.”

Kaplan said the NAB, “at the very least,” urged the Bureau to lift the freeze for pending applications, which were not subject to the same procedure before the 2009 DTV transition.

“For these reasons,” he said, “we request the Media Bureau… lift its freeze until it is able to examine, evaluate and explain the freeze’s impact on all pending and impending station modification applications and on viewers and the television industry more broadly.”