CBS Alerts FCC to TV Tuning Failure

WASHINGTON—CBS is urging federal regulators to make sure TV manufacturers are following the rules with regard to broadcast tuners.

“The FCC should take appropriate enforcement action against such equipment manufacturers,” CBS said in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission. “The need for FCC action is particularly important given that the impact of such equipment performance problems is likely to be exacerbated once broadcast television stations are operating on fewer RF channel following the upcoming incentive auction.”

Specifically, a situation on the East Coast has revealed that TV receivers may not be decoding the Program and System Information Protocol, or PSIP, which enables a TV to display and tune in virtual channels, such as dot-twos, or channel numbers that are different from the actual channel assignment of a station, but perhaps the same as its brand identity.

These virtual channels appear in electronic program guides rather than the actual channel assignment of the station. In some cases, they are one and the same, but many are not. (Notwithstanding accuracy,Wikipedia has a pretty good illustration of actual versus PSIP assignments.) PSIP was instituted in the ’09 digital transition to help minimize viewer disruption, is part of the current broadcast transmission standard and includes components required by the FCC.

The decoding anomaly was revealed in a proceeding involving PMCM, licensee of WJLP-TV in Middletown Township, N.J. PMCM previously owned KVNV-TV of Ely, Nev., and won approval to move the station’s community of license to Middletown Township after the 2009 digital transition left the state with no full-power VHF TV station. Federal law calls for each state to have at least one.

Thus, when KVNV, which occupied analog Ch. 3 in Ely, moved to Middletown Township, PMCM wanted to use Ch. 3 there. The commission first denied the request but was overruled by a federal court. PMCM was allowed to move its license to Ch. 3 in Middletown Township, and also wanted to use virtual Ch. 3.

While that may have worked in the Southwest backcountry, the Eastern Seaboard is a different animal, one crowded with TV stations. CBS, licensee of KYW-TV in Philadelphia, and Meredith, licensee of WFSB-TV in Hartford, Conn., raised red flags over PMCM’s request to use virtual Ch. 3 because both were already using it in adjacent markets with “significant” overlap of signal contours. This overlap would confuse receivers within those areas about which signal to decode and display.

After about six months of regulatory volleyball, the commission ruled in June that Meredith and CBS had dibs on virtual Ch. 3, and that the WJLP folks would have to make do with virtual Ch. 33.

And so they did, while their attorneys at Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, a D.C. law firm with a well-known broadcast practice, filed an Application for Review in July that challenged the FCC’s application of rules in the case.

By September, however, according to PMCM, it received “numerous reports” from viewers seeking WJLP but finding yet another station—WCBS-TV out of New York—which is transmitted on Ch. 33 and virtually identified on Ch. 2. (WJLP tramsmits from the Conde Naste building in Manhattan; while WCBS is on Empire State, less than a mile away.)

“According to PMCM's engineer, Jim McGowan, who conducted the testing, the majority of receivers tested produced the complained-of results,” PMCM said in an Emergency Request for Relief. “That is, when Ch. 33 was selected through the receiver’s remote, the receiver tuned to WCBS-TV—which broadcasts on RF Ch. 33. When Ch. 3 was selected through the remote, the receiver tuned to station WJLP. When Ch. 2 was selected, some sets received no signal, while others tuned to WCBS-TV.”

According to PMCM, the TVs tested were all supposed to decode PSIP. Manufacturers included Panasonic, JVC, Phillips, Sony, LG, Hisense and Samsung, ranging in size from 19 to 60 inches, including SDTVs, newer smart TVs and two digital converters.

CBS informally confirmed WJLP’s results, PMCM said, but the network did not say as much in its filing. It did, however, get behind PMCM’s assertion that receivers were not performing according to FCC rules.

“… It appears that such equipment fails to ‘be capable of adequately receiving all channels allocated by the commission to the television broadcast service,’ as required by the FCC’s rules,” CBS said in its filing.

CBS further said that while the FCC ought to enforce its on rules on receivers, that it should not allow WJLP to use virtual Ch. 3.