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REMINDER: The Guillotine Falls On Analog LPTV One Year From Now

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BY PETER TANNENWALD From The CommlawBlogR

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has issued a Public Notice reminding analog Low Power Television (“LPTV”) licensees that all analog transmissions must cease by July 13, 2021, and that deadline will not be extended or waived.

Most construction permits for new digital LPTV stations and CPs for existing stations to flash cut to digital on their current channel or to construct a digital companion channel also expire on July 13, 2021. A one-time extension of that deadline for up to 180 days may be requested and will be granted only if the need for more time is due to circumstances beyond the permittee’s control; extension applications must be filed no later than March 13, 2021. Stations needing to modify their digital construction permits before they build must file applications by May 1, 2021, to allow the FCC sufficient processing time before the July deadline for going on the air.

If an analog station is unable to begin digital broadcasting by July 13, 2021, it will have to shut down altogether until its digital facilities go on the air. Authority to remain silent must be requested from the FCC. As a reminder, licenses for stations that remain silent for more than one year will automatically expire by operation of law and will not be saved by an extension of a digital construction permit. While the FCC has the legal authority to extend the one-year maximum silent period, it has exercised that authority only rarely and only under extreme circumstances – do not expect you will be the rare exception.

The July 13, 2021, deadline applies to analog Channel 6 LPTV stations that provide service to FM radio receivers. The FCC has under consideration requests to allow these specific audio services to continue; but the requests have been contested, and there is no assurance of the outcome. Even if the continuation of the transmission of an analog aural signal is permitted, LPTV stations are unlikely to be permitted to continue analog video and may have to overlay an analog audio carrier on a digital video/audio signal.

Applications by Full Power TV stations that to need construct digital-to-digital replacement (“DTDRTs”) to fill in gaps in their main station service area resulting from the TV spectrum repack may file applications only until July 13, 2021. DTDRTs may become less attractive if the use of Distributed Antenna Systems (“DTS”), which allow multi-transmitter operation on a station’s main channel rather than on a different translator channel, becomes more widespread.

Analog LPTV stations that want to convert to digital operation without changing channels, and can do so without causing prohibited interference, may still apply for on-channel “flash-cut” authority. For those that are unable or do not wish to flash cut, the FCC is still accepting applications for separate companion digital channels. But, by July 13, 2021, each station will have to choose either to flash-cut to digital or to activate its companion digital channel and to cancel its analog channel license. Stations currently operating on both analog and companion digital channels may remain permanently on their companion digital channel or apply for a flash-cut construction permit and surrender their digital companion authorization.

LPTV stations planning to terminate analog operation are reminded that the FCC’s Rules require notification to viewers before analog service is shut down. The Rules are flexible with regard to the frequency, length, and content of notifications; but stations with local program origination capability are expected to give notice on the air unless on-air notices would be a hardship.

We would be happy to answer any questions about the end of analog LPTV and construction of new digital stations, as well as to assist with fulfilling FCC application requirements.

Most construction permits for new digital LPTV stations and CPs for existing stations to flash cut to digital on their current channel or to construct a digital companion channel also expire on July 13, 2021. A one-time extension of that deadline for up to 180 days may be requested and will be granted only if the need for more time is due to circumstances beyond the permittee’s control; extension applications must be filed no later than March 13, 2021. Stations needing to modify their digital construction permits before they build must file applications by May 1, 2021, to allow the FCC sufficient processing time before the July deadline for going on the air.

If an analog station is unable to begin digital broadcasting by July 13, 2021, it will have to shut down altogether until its digital facilities go on the air. Authority to remain silent must be requested from the FCC. As a reminder, licenses for stations that remain silent for more than one year will automatically expire by operation of law and will not be saved by an extension of a digital construction permit. While the FCC has the legal authority to extend the one-year maximum silent period, it has exercised that authority only rarely and only under extreme circumstances – do not expect you will be the rare exception.

The July 13, 2021, deadline applies to analog Channel 6 LPTV stations that provide service to FM radio receivers. The FCC has under consideration requests to allow these specific audio services to continue; but the requests have been contested, and there is no assurance of the outcome. Even if the continuation of the transmission of an analog aural signal is permitted, LPTV stations are unlikely to be permitted to continue analog video and may have to overlay an analog audio carrier on a digital video/audio signal.

Applications by Full Power TV stations that to need construct digital-to-digital replacement (“DTDRTs”) to fill in gaps in their main station service area resulting from the TV spectrum repack may file applications only until July 13, 2021. DTDRTs may become less attractive if the use of Distributed Antenna Systems (“DTS”), which allow multi-transmitter operation on a station’s main channel rather than on a different translator channel, becomes more widespread.

Analog LPTV stations that want to convert to digital operation without changing channels, and can do so without causing prohibited interference, may still apply for on-channel “flash-cut” authority. For those that are unable or do not wish to flash cut, the FCC is still accepting applications for separate companion digital channels. But, by July 13, 2021, each station will have to choose either to flash-cut to digital or to activate its companion digital channel and to cancel its analog channel license. Stations currently operating on both analog and companion digital channels may remain permanently on their companion digital channel or apply for a flash-cut construction permit and surrender their digital companion authorization.

LPTV stations planning to terminate analog operation are reminded that the FCC’s Rules require notification to viewers before analog service is shut down. The Rules are flexible with regard to the frequency, length, and content of notifications; but stations with local program origination capability are expected to give notice on the air unless on-air notices would be a hardship.

We would be happy to answer any questions about the end of analog LPTV and construction of new digital stations, as well as to assist with fulfilling FCC application requirements.