FCC Gives Nod to DTV 'Replacement' Translators

The FCC late last week released its rules covering "replacement" digital television translator service for full power DTV stations seeking to maintain their analog service areas.

In its Report and Order, the commission said it recognized that some full power station viewing audiences could be adversely affected by a station's change to digital, due to a reduction in coverage previously provided by analog transmission. The Commission noted that such coverage area deficiencies were unavoidable in some cases due to engineering changes mandated to avoid interference to other stations, and also due to transmitting facility relocation stemming from environmental and/or zoning issues.

The commission said that one of its goals in the DTV transition process was to ensure that Americans had access to the same amount of television service they come to expect prior to the cessation of analog broadcasting. As a result of the recognized DTV coverage shortfalls, the Commission has now established a new digital television translator service for extending the reach of DTV stations.

Digital translators will be authorized only on "in core" frequency allocations—channels 2 to 51—and applicants most provide interference protection to "authorized analog and digital lower power television, and TV translator facilities."

Expeditious processing for replacement DTV translator applications has been promised by the FCC. However, in making the DTV translator announcement, the FCC was careful to note that the purpose of a DTV translator was for maintaining existing signal coverage and not for enhancing it.

"The purpose of replacement digital television translators is to provide service to analog loss areas, not to expand full-service post-transition stations' service areas," the commission said.

To this end, all applicants are required to submit engineering studies to substantiate that there is a coverage loss with the DTV signal. The Commission stated that it does recognize—due to difficulties in precisely locating translators—that in some cases a slightly enhanced service area will result from activation of a station's replacement DTV translator.

"We believe that some post-transition full-service stations should be allowed a de minimis expansion of their analog service areas, in order to properly engineer their replacement translators," the commission said.

The FCC said that it was dropping its original requirement for a six month construction period for new DTV translators, recognizing that weather, funding and other issues were valid reasons for extending construction beyond six months.

To date, 20 stations have filled applications for replacement DTV translators.