FCC rules on modulation, must-carry

The Commission said, There is no reason to revisit our decision, denying a request to allow use of an alternative DTV modulation standard. The normally
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The Commission said, “There is no reason to revisit our decision,” denying a request to allow use of an alternative DTV modulation standard.

The normally lethargic FCC awakened long enough during the final hours of former Chairman Kennard to stir the pot a bit. Reaffirmation of 8VSB as the modulation of choice for digital television is only one of a number of issues awaiting the new Chairman.

The Commission said, “There is no reason to revisit our decision,” thereby denying a request to allow use of an alternative DTV modulation standard. It also set dates for stations with dual assignments within the digital television core, channels two through 51, to select which channel they will use once the transition to digital has been completed. The decision for commercial stations has been set for no later than Dec. 31, 2003 and a year later for non-commercial stations.

The Commission issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to consider whether some TV sets should have the ability to demodulate and decode over-the-air digital television signals as well as existing analog signals. This may push up the cost of those models with this dual capability, but it may be the only way to provide the public with digital reception capabilities. The implementation of dual reception and decoding will begin with larger screen sets, working down over time, to smaller picture-size models. Also mentioned were set top boxes capable of converting DTV signals for reception on analog sets as a viable way of meeting this need.

Addressing the issue of digital must-carry; the FCC has confirmed a digital-only (WHDT-DT, channel 59; Stuart, FL) station's right to mandatory carriage on cable systems in its local area. The issue of digital must-carry is seen by many as a key factor in the success of digital television. The FCC's current position is either the analog signal or the digital signal must be carried, but not both.

The Commission gave WHDT-DT the option of being carried on the cable systems as a digital or converted analog signal as a transitional measure. Recognizing the slow penetration of DTV, the station has opted (at its own expense) to provide each cable operator the equipment to allow them to carry the station's signal in an analog format.

The FCC has determined that any station not wishing to replicate its Grade B analog service area with its new digital service will not have to do so, but if a station does opt for less than its current Grade B analog service area for its digital signals, the Commission says that station will lose interference protection to those parts of its existing NTSC service area where the digital signal is not replicated. The cutoff dates for these decisions are Dec. 31, 2004 for commercial DTV stations and a year later for noncommercial DTV stations.

Send questions and comments to: larry_bloomfield@intertec.com