Eight TV Stations on One Stick Ponder Repack

WASHINGTON—Eight co-located TV stations in the Salt Lake City market want to stick together in the post-incentive auction channel repack. The station consortium, called “DTV Utah,” shares a tower and transmission facility on Farnsworth Peak, 18 miles outside of Salt Lake City.

“DTV Utah addressed the benefits from both a cost and an interference viewpoint of assigning those members who remain in the repack channel numbers that are close together and high up in the available television band,” the group said in an ex parte filing describing a meeting with Federal Communications Commission officials on Aug. 12. “DTV Utah also expressed concern that its actual cost and interference benefits may not be recognized or accounted for by the general nationwide optimization process adopted by the FCC,” as set forth in its Bidding Procedures Public Notice released Aug. 11.

DTV Utah licensees include KUTV, LLC, for CBS affiliate KUTV; Utah State Board of Regents for KUEN, a noncommercial educational station; Bonneville International Corp., for NBC affiliate KSL-TV; Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. for ABC affiliate KTVX and The CW affiliate KUCW; University of Utah for PBS member station KUED; Brigham Young University for PBS member station KBYU-TV; and Larry H. Miller Communications Corp. for KJZZ-TV, an independent station.

The consortium formed in 2000 in anticipation of the first digital transition. At the time, the FCC granted the stations even-numbered channel assignments between Channels 34 and 48, enabling interference among the eight stations to be managed at the combiner level in the transmission facility.

Based on those current channel assignments, the members anticipate having to move after the auction. They said preserving the “combined arrangement through optimal channel reassignments will meet some or all of the FCC’s optimization objectives.”

In a previous filing referenced in the Aug. 12 meeting, DTV Utah’s chairman, Jeremy Castro, also noted that if final channel assignments impair the co-location arrangement, “the collective costs for the stations, potentially including new leases and equipment purchases for each of the eight stations and other individual operational expenditures, would certainly exceed that of any costs of preserving the entire DTV Utah group.”

Utah’s terrain presents another problem, Castro said. The mountains surrounding the Salt Lake City market limit where TV transmission facilities can be located. Farnsworth Peak offers the greatest coverage area for the market, and the site has been optimized for DTV Utah’s combined arrangement in terms of “power supply, land use and physical infrastructure,” he said.

Separating the stations may require some of them to move to sites that would not allow them to cover the market without secondary facilities, he said.

DTV Utah is asking for two particular considerations: to be assigned to channels “as close together as possible,” and on channels “higher up in the UHF band.”

The logic behind the requests lay with the stations’ combined technologies. They now use an 8-input combiner designed to perform from 590 to 680 MHz (Channels 34-48). The option of retuning it for “any band plan that repurposes more than 60 MHz is very low,” Castro said. Since the FCC is shooting for up to and possibly more than twice that amount of spectrum, DTV Utah expects to need a new combiner. According to DTV Utah’s discussions with combiner manufacturers, a new combiner would work best on close channel assignments higher up in the UHF band.

DTV Utah stations also share a primary 16-bay array antenna, with each bay comprising five panels. The backup antenna is an 8-bay array with three panels per bay. Both are designed for 470 to 860 MzHz, but DTV Utah’s preliminary assessment is that both antennas can be repurposed “anywhere in the UHF band if DTV Utah is able to retain its combined status.”

The station group submitted its own band plan anticipating three clearing targets in the auction: 60, 84 and 126 MHz. At 60 MHz, four stations would have to be reassigned new channels. At 84 MHz, six would have to move, and at 126 MHz, all eight stations would need to move.

During the Aug. 12, meeting the DTV Utah and FCC reps discussed doing an engineering study on the best way to repack the eight stations. The study would have to be done after the auction, when the FCC releases its channel reassignment Public Notice. The station group also was told it would have to get approval from other stations in the market that might be affected by its proposal.

Additionally, DTV Utah sought clarification on the FCC’s quiet period in which stations participating in the auction are prohibited from communicating about it. The period is to start at the close of the applications window, which has not yet been established.

“DTV Utah pointed out that it would be necessary for its members to continue to conduct business activities” and work with vendors who help maintain the shared facility, KBYU’s Christian A. Fox said in the ex parte filing.

Image “FarnsworthCU” by Milonica, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons