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More free government money for DTV

The National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) announced that it had made available $44 million to help analog low-power, Class A, translator and booster stations make the conversion to digital.

On May 12, the NTIA announced the start of the Low-Power TV and Translator Upgrade grant program to help operators of analog low-power TV stations upgrade their analog facilities to digital broadcast capacity. There is $44 million available over two similar programs, so let’s examine both of them.

Digital-to-analog conversion program

If your station is not ready to implement an upgrade of its analog facility to digital transmission, you may want to consider applying to the Low-Power TV and Translator Conversion Program as an interim step in the effort to convert to digital. As of last August, $3.5 million had been allocated for this program.

The Low-Power Television and Translator Digital-to-Analog Conversion Program reimburses stations for up to $1000 to purchase a digital-to-analog conversion device to convert the incoming digital signal of a full-power TV station to analog for transmission on the low-power station's analog channel. NTIA will accept grant applications postmarked by June 12. The program will not accept applications postmarked after June 12.

However, for applications submitted through June 12, the NTIA will use no more than $1 million of any of the $3.5 million remaining after Nov. 17, 2008, and will process applications on a first-come, first-served basis until the $1 million is exhausted. So, before you go to all the trouble to stay analog, see if there’s any money left in the till.

Analog-to-digital upgrade program

The second NTIA reimbursement is for equipment needed to upgrade an analog LPTV station to digital transmission capability. Broadcasters can be reimbursed for the costs to upgrade their analog low-power TV, Class A TV, TV translator and TV booster stations in rural communities to digital transmission.

Eligible stations can apply for reimbursement, of up to $6000 to refit analog equipment for digital transmission or up to $20,000 to replace analog equipment with digital equipment, to upgrade low-power stations in eligible rural communities from analog to digital.

The NTIA is now accepting applications from eligible stations qualifying for priority reimbursement. We’ll explain the priority part later. These applications are due July 13. Beginning Sept. 1, eligible stations can apply on the first business day of each month for as long as funds are available.

Priority reimbursement

Priority will be given to eligible low-power TV stations that meet either of the following two criteria:

• The license is held by a nonprofit corporation that has received a determination of nonprofit status under applicable state or federal law, including stations organized under section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Service Code, 26 U.S.C. 501 (c); or

• The low-power television station serves a rural area of fewer than 10,000 viewers. (NTIA will use the population within the station's FCC 50/50 protected contour to determine whether this criterion is met).

Eligible low-power stations

To apply for reimbursement, the LPTV, Class A, TV translator or TV booster station must meet the following criteria:

• Had an analog television authorization or permit on Feb. 8, 2006, and has operated in analog; and

• Has converted from analog to digital operations, but not before Feb. 8, 2006, the date of enactment of the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005.

Application procedures

Applications can be filed now through July 13. The first application period is only for stations eligible for priority reimbursement (see above).

To start the process, you’ll need to be registered with an account name and password. Go here to start that process.

Application forms are available at NTIA’s Web site. Once completed electronically, applicants must print and sign each form and include any required additional documentation.

Free money: What’s not to like about that? Government strings? Probably.