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DTV transition rules for translators and LPTV

The FCC has established rules for converting low-power television (LPTV), translator and Class A TV stations to DTV. From the FCC's viewpoint, there is no reason for so-called “secondary” television services to continue broadcasting in analog once full-service stations have completed the jump to digital.

Some central features of the regulatory future of these non-full-service television services follows:

  • Current LPTV and TV translator license holders will be given two options. They can either “flash cut” to digital broadcasting on their currently authorized channels or temporarily operate on two channels — their current analog channel and a to-be-assigned digital companion channel (if one is available).
  • As long as they broadcast a stream of free over-the-air programming, LPTV and TV translator stations will be allowed to offer ancillary services (such as pay-per-view, Internet access, etc.) in any extra bandwidth.
  • No firm date has been set for final conversion of LPTV, translator and Class A stations to digital and turn-off of all analog broadcasting. However, the commission has made it clear that the final date will be as soon as possible after the full-service cutoff.
  • Conflicting applications for new digital channel authorizations will be subject to auction.
  • Contour protection methodology for predicting interference between analog LPTV and TV translator stations will be replaced with DTV interference prediction methodology.
  • After the current license holders have received authorizations to convert, the FCC will open the process up to the public for any leftover channels and areas not served.

There is a possible fly in the ointment. LPTV and TV translator stations by nature fit into the interstitial spectrum between full-service television station allotments. But the allotments for full-service stations are still in a state of flux. A complicated multi-round process was just announced by the FCC for the “repacking” of all full-service stations into channels 2 through 51. Channels 52 through 69, previously available for broadcast use, will be used for commercial wireless and public safety uses instead. This will displace some LPTV and translator stations and limit the DTV options of many others.

Will there be any space left over for LPTV and translators? It's too early to tell, and it's premature for LPTV or translator licensees to panic. Realistically, it will be a year or two before the FCC finalizes plans for LPTV and translators, let alone implements them. January 2006 is the expected date for the third and final round of full-service station channel selections. The FCC cannot make any final plans for LPTV and translator station channels before then.

Finally, the commission declined to establish digital TV booster licenses. Boosters are transmitters on the same channel that fill in areas within the primary station's service area that might not receive the station's signal because of terrain or other obstructions. Not authorizing DTV boosters is understandable, because there will soon be a new fast-track proceeding at the FCC to allow full-service TV stations to use distributive transmission systems (DTS) technology. Near the end of its recent periodic full-service DTV order, the commission announced that it was approving the use of DTS technology “in principle.” DTS technology replaces the primary transmitter with a number of smaller synchronized transmitters placed throughout the station's service area (think cell phone technology). As a result, it is the equivalent of many booster stations.

Harry C. Martin is president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth PLC, Arlington, VA.


Television, LPTV and TV translator stations in Alabama and Georgia must file their renewal applications, biennial ownership reports and EEO program reports with the FCC on or before Dec. 1.

Television stations in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi must begin their renewal pre-filing announcements on Dec. 1.

TV stations with at least one in-core channel must file their DTV channel election forms (FCC Form 382) in mid-December 2004. (The options under this form include (1) which in-core channel the licensee/permittee elects (for those with two in-core channels); (2) whether it will select its one in-core channel (for those with only one in-core channel); or (3) whether it will release the in-core channel(s) it has in order to make an election of a new in-core channel in a subsequent round.

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