MSTV proposes DTV channel assignment plan

The Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) recently submitted a five-step plan for moving all television stations to permanent digital channels in the core to the FCC
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The Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV), which represents more than 500 local television stations on technical issues, recently submitted a five-step plan to the FCC for moving all television stations to permanent digital channels in the core. The goals of the plan are to (i) allow stations to select their final DTV channel where possible; (ii) protect existing service to the fullest extent possible; (iii) promote a joint industry-FCC effort, with the industry taking the lead and the FCC issuing licenses and resolving conflicts; and (iv) encourage an orderly transition, minimizing disruption to existing DTV operations. The plan's five steps are:

Step 1: Correct the DTV database. MSTV wants the FCC to adopt a final DTV database by early 2005. MSTV observes that the FCC's DTV database is inaccurate and consists of several separate databases. Also, a number of coordination issues involving Canada and Mexico have yet to be resolved. MSTV would like the FCC to establish a single, reliable database.

MSTV proposes the FCC immediately freeze any new requests for DTV channel changes, allotments or modifications of DTV facilities that would expand the existing service area or increase interference. The freeze would not affect pending proposals. Once such a freeze was in place, the commission would open a limited window for stations to review the existing database(s) and request corrections. Meanwhile, the commission would intensify its efforts to resolve all outstanding international coordination and interference issues.

Step 2: First round of channel selections. Once the final database is in place, stations would make final channel selections in two rounds. In the first round, stations with two in-core channels would select one to use for DTV. If the station selects the DTV channel, it relinquishes rights to its NTSC channel. If the station selects the NTSC channel, it retains rights to the DTV channel temporarily to allow it to evaluate digital operation on the channel.

Also in the first round, stations with both NTSC and DTV channels outside the core would specify three permanent channels, protecting in-core channels of stations with one out-of-core channel. MSTV anticipates that stations would complete their first-round selections by June 2005.

Step 3: Provisional authorizations. The FCC would then issue provisional authorizations based on the first round of channel selections. Stations receiving these authorizations would relinquish rights to all other channels, which would become available for the second round of channel selections. MSTV expects the majority of stations will at this time receive their channels of choice. The FCC would issue provisional authorizations at this time to: stations that chose to keep their in-core DTV channels; stations that chose to move their permanent DTV operations to their in-core NTSC channels; and stations with two out-of-core channels, which could be accommodated on one of their three channel preferences. MSTV envisions getting to this point by October 2005.

Step 4: Second round of channel selections. At this point, there still may be some stations that have not yet received a channel, or that find their selection from the first round to be unacceptable. Those stations would participate in a second round of channel selections.

Step 5: Final DTV table. All of the foregoing would set the stage for the resolution of any conflicts in channel requests and issued licenses, resulting in a final DTV table of allotments in 2006. MSTV proposes that FCC use the following criteria to resolve remaining channel conflicts: (i) length of time station has been operating on DTV; (ii) population served by the station's digital signal and the percentage of the replication population served; (iii) whether one or both channels are in the low VHF band; (iv) whether coordination with Canada or Mexico is a problem; and (v) whether there are zoning, environmental or other problems.

There is no deadline for comments on MSTV's plan and no guarantee that the commission will hold off on adopting parts of it or imposing a freeze in the meantime.

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

Dateline

Television stations in North Carolina and South Carolina must file their renewal applications, ownership reports and EEO program reports by Aug. 1, 2004. LPTV and TV translators in North Carolina and South Carolina must file their renewals by Aug. 1. Also by Aug. 1, stations in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands must begin their pre-filing renewal announcements.

Send questions and comments to:harry_martin@primediabusiness.com