The FCC’s confidential letters to television stations that did not submit successful bids to relinquish their spectrum in the reverse auction could arrive in broadcaster mailboxes any day now. For some stations, this letter will confirm that it’s business as usual, and that they will continue to operate on the same channel after the auction. But for more than 1,000 stations, the letters could represent the beginning of a long, challenging process not only to seamlessly move to a new channel, but to do so in a manner that minimizes out-of-pocket costs and maximizes reimbursement from the FCC. Broadcasters should have a head start of 6-8 weeks before the FCC issues its Closing and Reassignment Public Notice, and it would be helpful to use that time wisely.
Perhaps the most important two things a station owner can do upon receiving its letters are organize and prioritize. For a single station owner, this will be fairly simple: review the materials from the FCC and contact your consulting engineer and/or attorney to begin the process. For a large group owner, however, it will be helpful to asses: (i) how many stations you have in each transition phase; (ii) the nature of your channel moves; and (iii) any commonalities among your stations and their repacking efforts. With this information, your can prioritize. Engineers, equipment manufacturers, and attorneys are going to be flooded with calls and e-mails, and even their most important clients (e.g., you) may need to wait in a queue. You can help these professionals help you by identifying the stations that you need them to focus on first based on your organization and your business priorities.
Stations that are changing channels will have 90-days from the release date of the Closing and Reassignment Public Notice to both: (i) file a minor modification application for a construction permit that specifies the post-auction channel and technical parameters listed in the Closing and Reassignment Public Notice; and (ii) file a reimbursement form with their initial reimbursement request. Applications filed within the initial 90-day window must propose facilities consistent with the technical parameters specified in the Closing and Reassignment Public Notice, with minor exceptions. The only stations not required to file a minor modification application are those unable to construct the facility specified in their confidential letters and the Public Notice. Not liking your assigned facility or not believing that it truly replicates your service area or population served does not exempt you from this requirement. The Commission will process these applications on an expedited basis.
Relocation cost estimates and any required supporting documentation must be filed via the FCC’s LMS using the Reimbursement Form. When filing estimated costs, reassigned stations must identify their current operational equipment as well as the equipment and services they expect to purchase to complete the post-auction channel transition. Cost estimates can be based either on the predetermined cost estimates identified in the Catalog of Eligible Expenses or by obtaining price quotes from vendors. Stations must submit supporting cost estimate documentation (such as a price quote from a vendor) for any equipment or service for which there is no predetermined cost estimate in the Catalog, and must provide a detailed explanation if an estimate exceeds the amount listed for the particular equipment or service in the Catalog.
Stations will be required to provide MVPD notifications, viewer notifications, and health care facility notifications prior to switching to their new channels. Once a station’s new facility is constructed, and no later than the construction phase deadline listed on its construction permit, the station must file a license application.
Stations that cannot construct the facility specified in the Closing and Reassignment Public Notice or that want to request alternate channels and/or expanded facilities will have an opportunity to file applications after the initial 90-day window is closed. Specifically, within approximately 30 days after the close of the initial 90-day window, the Media Bureau will open a First Priority Window for: (i) stations unable to construct their assigned facilities; (ii) stations entitled to protection but predicted to experience a loss in population served in excess of one percent; or (iii) Class A stations that did not receive protection in the repacking process and were displaced during the repacking process. Once the First Priority Window is closed, the FCC will open a Second Priority Window for any reassigned station or band-changing station to seek an alternate channel or expanded facility that is different from the technical facilities specified in the Closing and Reassignment Public Notice. An LPTV/translator displacement window will follow.
Wiley Rein is prepared to assist television stations with all of their post-auction needs. You can view a list of our post-auction services here.