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FCC Issues Replacement Translator Order

WASHINGTON: The FCC issued rules for a new translator class designed to fill in coverage gaps for full-power TV stations. The potential of coverage gaps became apparent when analog TV signals were shut down last fall in Wilmington, N.C., the nation's DTV transition test market. The translator order anticipates the nationwide analog TV shut-down at 927 stations coming June 12.

"In some cases, a portion of the existing analog service area of a full-service station will no longer be able to receive service after the station transitions to digital broadcasting," the FCC order states. "Some of these 'loss' areas are a result of unavoidable engineering changes that stations were required to implement in order to avoid interference or other problems on their post-transition digital channel."

The FCC stressed other methods of filling gaps, given that replacement translators will require a channel assignment separate from the main station. The order goes on to list several strategies: Increasing transmitter power or tower height; building a single-channel distributed transmission system; applying for new channels; changing antennas, moving towers; or cutting a subchannel deal with another station.

The commission rejected a request by the National Translator Association to simply open up all translator filings, which would include applications from low-power TV stations. Full-power TV stations take precedence for now. Another order covering LPTV and the new DTV translator requests is on deck.

"In this proceeding we address 'in-contour' or 'fill-in' translators but, to address the problems faced by more distant translators as a result of the digital transition, we will soon be releasing a public notice to announce the initiation of first-come, first-serve licensing for new digital LPTV and TV translator facilities, consistent with our rules," the FCC said.

Google, Microsoft and Dell threw up red flags during the comment period because new translators mean less null TV spectrum for new white space devices. The triad successfully lobbied the commission for free spectrum for unlicensed communications gear, and said that a replacement translator service could "foreclose the use of many unlicensed white space channels." The FCC more or less said, "give it a break."

"We are unpersuaded by this argument because unlicensed white space devices are already required to protect television translators," the commission said.

New coverage-gap translators will be licensed under the main station's call sign and receive secondary-frequency use status. So far 15 stations have filed 20 applications for replacement DTV translators, and eight requests have been filed for temporary facilities. The construction deadline for new facilities is three years.

Applicants include:
KCWC-TV in Lander, Wyo.
KIRO-TV in Seattle
KNPB-TV in Reno, Nev.
KOLD-TV in Tucson, Ariz.
KRXI-TV in Reno
KRMA-TV in Denver
KSYS-TV in Medford, Ore.
KXLY-TV in Spokane, Wash.
WDTV in Weston, W.V.
WHSV-TV in Harrisonburg, Va.
WSB-TV in Atlanta
WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh
WTVI-TV in Charlotte, N.C.
and WWAZ-TV in Fond du Lac, Wis.

-- Deborah D. McAdams