FCC hopes to solve anticipated DTV coverage losses

For those concerned about how stations’ coverage areas will be affected once the transition to digital television in February is complete, the FCC has released two revealing geographical reports that show station-by-station changes. The complementary reports also suggest solutions to remedy those situations where stations may not be able to replicate their analog coverage.

One report finds that 89 percent of 1533 television stations will see a net gain of viewers in the switch to digital, while 196 stations — or 11 percent — will have a net loss.

Stations that are predicted to lose viewers have several options for restoring service, including use of translators operating within a single-frequency Distributed Transmission System (DTS) or as fill-in stations that operate on a different channel; use of another station’s subchannel to be transmitted via multicasting; maximizing the station’s power; changing the station’s channel; or changing the antenna pattern.

The second report contains maps and other information for 319 stations where more than 2 percent of the population covered by their analog service will not be covered by their digital service. This includes losses inside the service area due to the digital “cliff effect.” The population losses shown on the maps actually overstate the loss as it includes people who currently receive TV broadcasting service via cable or satellite, which accounts for about 85 percent of all viewers (i.e., only a small fraction of the viewers counted actually rely exclusively on over-the-air signals for television reception) and include people who may be receiving service from TV translators, the FCC said.

It also important to note, the commission said, that in all of these circumstances the community of license remains covered and it is predominantly viewers who live outside the actual community of license (in some cases in neighboring communities) who may lose coverage. The agency said it will make every resource available for broadcasters to mitigate any lost service.

Outgoing FCC chairman Kevin Martin said broadcasters should use the information in these reports to inform viewers about how changes in their coverage may affect them. “We expect broadcasters to make this information readily available and include it in all of their DTV educational material,” he said in a statement.

He also said that these changes in coverage are the result of decisions made more than 10 years ago. “In most cases, changes in coverage are due to choices made by broadcasters.”

The commission also released a notice of proposed rulemaking that would create a new “replacement” digital television translator service to permit full-service television stations to continue to provide service to loss areas that have occurred as a result of their digital transition. This initiative would also allow broadcasters to apply for special temporary authority to use such translators while the rulemaking is pending.

For more information, visit www.fcc.gov.