Will full-power stations be able to channel-share with an LPTV station and still maintain their MVPD must-carry status? The answer now appears to be "Yes".
Responding to an audience question in this week's FCC webinar for broadcasters on the incentive auction, Media Bureau Chief William Lake said must-carry status followed the channel and was not dependent on the transmitting station, an LPTV in this case. The questioner was specifically asking about PBS affiliates, but the explanation implies this could apply to other full-power stations as well. The LPTV station's own programming, however, would not be given must-carry status.
The LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition issued a press release Wednesday after the FCC's webinar with news about William Lake's comments and added this comment from Coalition director Mike Gravino: "There are a growing number of PBS affiliates which want to enter the auction, and if they do the PBS network is concerned that there will be gaps in the national coverage for PBS. Many of these stations are owned by educational, community-owned, and faith-institutions, and if they want to take a payday for their organizations in the auction, the door is now wide-open for PBS affiliates to contract with LPTV stations for carriage. But it must be done prior to the auction happening." The specific rules regarding LPTV channel sharing will be released in a separate rule making later this year.
The FCC released slides from the Broadcast Incentive Auction 101 webinar on Wednesday that explained channel sharing in detail but did not mention sharing with LPTV stations. The webinar notes that in the post-repacking filing window digital replacement translators (DRT) displacement applications will be given priority over other LPTV and translator applications where mutually exclusive. The slide states, "FCC is initiating a separate LPTV and TV Translator proceeding to consider how to help alleviate the consequences of displacement."
Although not mentioned in the slides, the LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition press release said the FCC is considering providing channels for unlicensed use in all markets in the country in what they call "naturally occurring white spaces."
Coalition Director Gravino stated: "The FCC does not have the authority to just give unlicensed users valuable and scarce TV band channels in the repack before they provide for licensed LPTV users channels to displace to. Nowhere in the enabling spectrum auction legislation is this provided for other than the guard bands. This is an overreach of the authority the FCC has and if necessary will be fought out in court or back in Congress."
On Wednesday the FCC released an Estimated Timeline of Key Events Leading Up to FCC's Broadcast Incentive Auction. It sets 1Q2015 for adoption of a Public Notice establishing final auction procedures and providing detailed explanations and instructions for potential auction participants. Also in 1Q2015, the FCC will also announce a Pre-Auction Licensing Deadline. "Authorized construction of new full power station facilities, channel substitutions for licensed full power stations, modifications to existing full-power and Class A facilities granted before the April 2013 freeze, and Class A digital conversion facilities must be completed and licensed by this deadline in order to be protected in the repacking process." Broadcasters will be notified at least 90 days before the deadline.
The timeline lists the steps the FCC needs to take before the auction, which is shown as being conducted in "Mid 2015." One of the steps in early 2015 is the issuance of a final catalog of repacking costs that will be eligible for reimbursement. Every page of the timeline clearly states: "This is an estimated timeline only, and does not commit the Commission to act on specific dates with respect to any of the events described herein
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