WNPA-DT Move to Ch. 49 Approved; WLLS-CA Will Have to Change Channels

Viacom Television Stations Group of Pittsburgh Inc. filed a petition for rulemaking in 1999, requesting substitution of DTV ch. 49 for WNPA-TV's assigned DTV ch. 30 at Johnston, Pa. and reallotment of DTV ch. 49 from Johnstown to Jeanette, Pa. The petition was opposed by Larry L. Schrecongost, licensee of Class A TV station WLLS-CA in Indiana, Pa., which uses ch. 49. Last week the FCC rejected Schrecongost's opposition and granted the Viacom request.

Viacom's reason for filing the petition for rule making was to correct the paired DTV channel assignment to the wrong community and to eliminate the potential for harmful interference to WWCP-DT, DTV ch. 29 at Johnston, Pa. The paired digital channel was originally assigned as part of WNPA-TV's license and was inadvertently omitted from the 1997 Report and Order changing the community of license from Johnstown to Jeanette Pa., leaving the WNPA digital ch. 30 in Johnstown.

Schrecongost objected, saying assignment of ch. 49 to Jeannette, where the proposed DTV facility would completely encompass the coverage area of WLLS-LP on ch. 49, was contrary to the Community Broadcasters Protection Act of 1999 (CBPA). In the Public Notice "Schrecongost notes that while the Commission did provide for some flexibility for existing broadcasters to change their DTV channels to correct unforeseen technical problems, that situation did not apply in changing WNPA's community of license since the adoption of the change of community proposal was premised on the fact that there would be no change in WNPA's transmitter site."

The FCC's replied that it would deny Schrecongost's objection and approve Viacom's proposal. "It is unquestionable that station WNPA-TV's community of license was changed from Johnstown to Jeannette, Pa., through an appropriate rule making proceeding in 1997. That proceeding is final and is not subject to review herein," the commission said.

The FCC noted that in changing the community of license or WNPA-TV from Johnstown to Jeanette, the digital table of allotments was not amended to reflect the change. As the WNPA-TV license is composed of analog and digital channels, the oversight was made in error and should have been corrected. The FCC says that the Viacom petition did not constitute a request for a new digital allotment at Jeannette, as Schrecongost alleged, but rather represented a request to correct the administrative error in not assigning WNPA-TV's paired digital channel to Jeannette when the community of license was changed.

The FCC determined that WLLS-CA was not entitled to protection from WNPA-DT, noting CBPA gives TV licensees the flexibility to resolve technical problems or maximize their digital operations and as such, "proposals by initial digital licensees are not required to protect Class A facilities."

"WNPA-TV's proposed Jeannette site on ch. 49 eliminates this interference and enables WNPA-DT to provide maximized service to Jeannette, while enabling station WWCP-DT, ch. 29 to continue to provide interference-free digital service to Johnstown," the commission said. "Although WLLS-CA will be displaced on ch. 49, it need not go off the air. Viacom has identified at least two available channels on which WWLS-CA may continue broadcasting."

Additional Class A TV stations may be affected by DTV channel elections. This action may provide some indication on how the FCC could resolve other such conflicts with Class A TV stations. For additional information, see the FCC Report and Order (DA 06-303).