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FCC embarks on process of LPTV and TV translator transition to digital service

Owners of low-power television, TV translator and TV booster stations began their odyssey to a digital future last week as the FCC's Media Bureau reported to the chairman and commissioners on its notice of proposed rule making aimed at giving those broadcasters, in the words of Media Bureau Chief Kenneth Ferree, “the opportunity to realize the benefits of digital television.”

During its regular meeting Aug. 6, the commission unanimously passed a notice of proposed rule making regarding the adoption of digital service by LPTV, TV translator and TV booster owners.

The commission heard from Media Bureau chief engineer Keith Larson who laid out the main points of the proposed rule making. It seeks comment on key legal, technical and policy issues surrounding the LPTV and translator transition to digital television service.

The notice tentatively found that translators should be able to re-broadcast the entire DTV signal of a broadcast station, Larson said, and sought comment on how and to what extent a translator should be allowed to transmit local messages or change in some other way a TV broadcaster’s digital content.

The notice also tentatively concluded that a digital LPTV station should be required to maintain a minimum free over-the-air service similar to that required of a DTV station, Larson said, and that the commission should let a digital LPTV operator use the rest of its channel capacity to offer ancillary and supplemental services.

The notice also sought answers to whether channels 2 through 59, with the exception of channel 37, should be made available for digital translator and LPTV use. It sought comment on whether channels 60 through 69 should be available in light of the fact that the statute requires them to be vacated after the DTV transition, Larson told the commissioners. As an alternative, the notice asked if channels 52 to 59 and 60 to 69 can be used only when an applicant can show that lower TV channels are unavailable.

According to Larson, other key questions the notice is seeking answers to and issues it requests comment on regard:

  • Interference protection. Acknowledging the secondary regulatory status of LPTV service extends to future digital LPTV stations, the notice proposed that the protected signal contours of Class A TV stations be adopted for LPTV and translator stations. The notice also seeks comment the current contour protection methodology used for analog LPTV service acceptance should be replaced with the DTV interference prediction methodology.
  • Application filing policies and procedures. The notice tentatively concludes that facilitating the digital transition of existing analog LPTV and translator service be given a high priority and proposes the conversion be authorized as a minor facilities change on a first-come, first-serve basis.
  • New digital station authorization. The notice asked for comments on a digital-only application filing window restricted to incumbent LPTV, TV translator and Class A TV licensees and permittees with a separate filing procedure later for others on a first-come, first-serve basis. It also asked for comments regarding whether such incumbent broadcasters using such a system should be forced to relinquish an equal number of channels at the end of the DTV transition.
  • Competitive bidding. The notice requested comments on whether digital LPTV and TV translator stations that are mutually exclusive with other applications should be open to bidding.
  • Termination at the end of the digital transition. The notice requested comment on whether statutory provisions for termination of analog TV service after the DTV transition is complete apply to LPTV service and whether there needs to be a trigger mechanism as there is for full power stations.

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