FCC Takes Steps to Help LPTVs

Outlined decision on mitigating the impact of auction

The FCC Thursday outlined the unanimous decision on mitigating the impact of the incentive auction on low power TVs and translators.

Those will include permitting LPTVs and translators to share channels after the auction—where they can be displaced to make room for repacked full-powers. The FCC will also extend the DTV transition deadline by a whopping 51 months after the end of the incentive auction.

The deadline had been Sept. 1, 2015, but was postponed and now won't happen until a year after the 39-month deadline for TV stations to transition to their new channels after the auction.

But while stations can broadcast in analog until roughly 2020, the FCC says it will sunset its analog tuner mandate Aug. 31 2017, meaning TV sets will no longer be required to include analog tuners. 

The FCC also promises to help displaced LPTVs and translators find new channels and is creating a new replacement translator service for full-power stations who lose digital service areas as a result of repacking.

Translators are low-power stations that retransmit full-power signals to hard-to-reach, often rural, areas.

In a separate notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), the FCC tentatively concluded that LPTVs should be able to share channels not only with each other, but with full-power and Class A low powers, the latter can participate in the auction and have public interest obligations other LPTVs do not.

The FCC is allowing auction-participating stations to share channels, and has separately proposed to allow full powers and Class As who don't participate the ability to share post auction, too, though they will be giving up spectrum to the FCC without any payout.

It said Thursday that it will resolve both that primary-to-primary post-auction sharing and this new primary-to-secondary (LPTV and translators) sharing proposal in a single decision based on the combined record in both those proceedings.

“The Commission’s action is designed to preserve the vital services LPTV and TV translator stations provide – particularly in rural areas,” Media Bureau chief William Lake said in a statement. “These steps, along with other actions we have taken, will help ensure the continued availability of these services following the Incentive Auction.”

Based on the press release, the LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition saw a lot to like.

"This is definitely very good news for LPTV and TV translators," said coalition director Mike Gravino. He particularly liked the primary-to-secondary sharing part. "Channel sharing between LPTV and LPTV is allowed. But more importantly, primary stations will be allowed to channel share with LPTV," he said. "While the final rules on this are still in process, it opens the door for a lot of potential channel carriage deals."

But he also cautioned that the “devil is in the details,” which would come in the full report and order and commissioner commentary.