FCC meeting transcripts

Kenneth Ferree,
Bureau Chief, Media Bureau:

Sitting here in Washington, it’s sometimes easy to think of our policy choices in terms of their impact on communities like our own, metropolitan areas with several million souls and very nearly limitless communications and media offerings. But America spans vast open spaces dotted with small sometimes isolated communities. Communications policy should be as sensitive to the needs of people in these communities as it is to the needs of people in New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

For every item belonging to one as good belongs to another.

As Sir Thomas Moore famously noted in his Utopia, ‘The way to heaven out of all places is of like length and distance.

The bureau is pleased therefore to begin a rule making that will help bring digital television to rural America. Many rural Americans receive television programming from TV translator stations which retransmit the signals of distant TV stations. In addition, hundreds of rural communities and discreet ethnic communities in urban areas are served by low power television stations. Some of these stations provide the only source of local news and public affairs programming in their community.

Through this proceeding consumers served by TV translator and low power TV stations will have an opportunity to realize the benefits of digital television. Inasmuch the item represents yet another critical step in the nation’s DTV transition.

Keith Larson, the bureau’s chief engineer will present the item.

Keith Larson,
Media Bureau Chief Engineer:

Good morning Mr. Chairman and commissioners. The Notice of Proposed Rule making before you seeks comment on legal, technical and policy issues for permitting the authorization and operation of digital low power television, television translator and television booster stations. I will highlight the key provisions.

Regarding permissible digital service, the notice tentatively concludes that a translator should be technically capable of re-broadcasting the entire signal of a DTV broadcast station.

It seeks comment on how and the extent to which a translator should be permitted to transmit locally generated messages or otherwise alter the digital content or video format of a TV broadcast signal.

The notice tentatively concludes that a digital LPTV station should be subject to a minimum free over the air video program service requirement similar to that for DTV stations and should also be permitted to use its remaining channel capacity to provide ancillary and supplementary services.

Regarding spectrum, the notice proposes that TV channels 2 through 13 and 14 through 59, except channel 37, which is reserved for radio astronomy, be made available for digital translator and LPTV service. It seeks comment on whether channels 60 to 69 should also be made available, noting the statutory requirement that these channels must be vacated after the DTV transition.

Alternatively, the notice asks if channels 52 to 59 and 60 to 69 should be made available only when applicants can demonstrate the unavailability of lower TV channels.

Regarding interference protection, the notice acknowledges the secondary regulatory status of stations in the LPTV service extends to future digital stations. It proposes for digital LPTV and translator stations the protected signal contour values adopted for digital Class A TV stations. It seeks comment on whether the contour protection methodology now used for the acceptance of analog LPTV service proposals should be replaced with the more flexible and accurate DTV interference prediction methodology, which could enable more digital stations but without undermining the protection rights of others.

The notice seeks comment on application filing policies and procedures to balance the digital service objectives with other LPTV service needs and tentatively concludes that a high priority should be accorded facilitating the digital transition of existing analog LPTV and TV translator service. It proposes that a conversion to digital operation on a station’s existing analog channel should be authorized as a minor facilities change on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Regarding the authorization of new digital stations, the notice seeks comment on an initial digital only application filing window with eligibility restricted to incumbent LPTV, TV translator and Class A TV licensees and permittees to be followed at a later date by a separate filing procedure of on-going rolling one-day filing windows, essentially a first-come, first-serve application filing system. The notice seeks comment on whether incumbents that would secure digital channels in such a restricted window should be required to give back an equal number of channels at the end of the DTV transition.

It also seeks comment on whether applications for digital LPTV or TV translator stations that are mutually exclusive with other applications would be subject to competitive bidding procedures.

Finally, the notice seeks comment on whether and how statutory provisions for the termination of analog TV service at the end of the DTV transition apply to authorizations in the LPTV service and if not whether the commission should consider a trigger based mechanism for the cessation of analog LPTV and translator service analogous to that of full service stations. The media bureau recommends adoption of this notice of proposed rule making and requests editorial privileges.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell:
Thank you very much Keith, questions or comments?

Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy:
Thank you Mr. Chairman. Again, thanks to the bureau for bringing this item up to us. This is a significant challenge. How do we bring the benefits of digital television to those particularly in rural areas that rely on low power and television translator stations? The challenge is significant enough in urban areas. You get out into rural areas where hundreds of communities depend on these low power services for free over the air television –some it’s the only service they get. And we’ve got some challenges in front of in making sure this happens.

Most of them, many of them are very technical in nature. How do you find the space, and then how do you ensure that you don’t take away analog too soon while at the same time making digital capability available? So, I appreciate all your work on this item because it is very complex, very technical but also very important to the person in rural America who pretty much wants to know that if they turn on their TV set they are going to get a signal. So thank you very much for your work on this item, and I look forward to reviewing the comments when they come.

Commissioner Michael Copps:
This is a good item and I certainly support it. As I go around the country, I have seen first hand the tremendous value these local stations provide. There are hundreds of local communities all across this country that depend upon the low power and translator stations for free over the air television service. As you said in some areas this may be the only source for local news and information. In other areas, LPTV programming may be geared to a niche audience such as foreign language programming or whatever. And these are services that we should want to see continued in the digital era.

This service is needed because it adds I think to media localism and media diversity and media competition. And without planning ahead now, the transitions to digital for these stations it will not only be more difficult but it will be a lot more tenuous so our objective here and I think and hope is that this service will not only survive but that it will thrive and I think this item can help us achieve that objective. I’m pleased that we asked far reaching questions about LPTV in the digital world. As with any other user of the public’s airwaves, low power television stations must serve the public’s interest, convenience and necessity.

Today as analog stations they generally do. I think often with great distinction. The digital transition will afford these stations new opportunities but it also confers upon them and upon us the responsibility to define what their public interest obligations will be and how these may be altered in a digital environment.

This is necessary because station operators need to have some certainty as with what the rules of the road are going to be going ahead and because the American people have a compelling interest of knowing how the spectrum will be utilized. We know the high definition programming and multicasting and datacasting are going to transform free over the air television by providing consumers new and valuable services and by providing broadcasters with new and valuable business opportunities. And our job is to ensure that these new opportunities are carried out in a manner that serves the interest of all of the American people, most assuredly those in rural communities for whom low powered TV holds such great promise. So I think the rewards here for all of us can be enormous and I look forward to a full record as we chart the road ahead. Thanks.

Commissioner Kevin Martin:
I also support the item and the bureau’s efforts. For decades, TV translators and low power television has made it possible for much of rural America to receive free over the air television.

As commissioner Abernathy said in some cases this is the only option that they have in the rural communities. So the effort to ensure that rural America is not left behind during in our digital transition is critical.

And with that, I want to commend the staff for trying to take up the challenges that these issues face particularly the technical and administrative difficulties. And I think they are particularly complex. And so I think this is important to move forward and I appreciate your efforts trying to work through those issues.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein:
It’s a good item that I think will have a big impact on television viewing in rural America. As colleagues have noted, that translators and low powered TV fill a crucial need in providing over the air TV to many of the rural areas of the country and in other areas as well. I think Congress intended the digital transition to benefit all Americans, including those who live in rural America. So that’s a goal we all share here. And I think this moves us in that direction in a positive way given the nature of these stations, I recognize the conversion to digital raises a number of serious questions which you’ve touched upon. I think that the time is right for this item and for us to begin to address these questions. I’m mindful of the limited spectrum availability for the transition of low power stations and the limited finances of many of these stations.

Nevertheless, we’ve got to move forward and confront and find creative ways to resolve these transition issues and do so in a way that minimizes the disruption of existing over the air television services to consumers and at the same time accelerate the transition to digital, particularly in rural areas. With all of the obstacles facing rural America we’ve got to be sure we continue to maintain access to free over the air TV and it’s also worth noting that a lot of low powered TV stations are operated by diverse groups, not just in rural America, but everywhere, including minorities, schools and churches and local governments and individual citizens. And that their programming varies widely but a lot of it is very much what we talked about today. Localism the importance of getting that local voice heard so this conversion should bring opportunities for innovative and locally oriented programming services. So I thank the bureau for drafting a broad and comprehensive inquiry and glad that we can put this in place.

Chairman Powell:
Thank you. I’d echo all of those comments. A lot has been said about the value and importance to rural America of the digital TV transition and this item seeks to tackle some very difficult questions.

I think the average person doesn’t appreciate how technically complex the digital transition is. When I first came to the commission in 1997 I remember taking a tour of the media bureau and there were computers running all over the place as engineers proceeded to talk me through how they were running digital TV allotment issues and they told me the computer will run for the next three days before they knew how it worked out. It is a massive engineering undertaking and I thank Keith and our engineers and those who have worked on this for nearly a decade have just done an exceptional job in doing something I’m glad to see them lending their formidable talents to continuing the effort in the area of rural America.

With that, all those in favor of the matter signify by saying aye.


Chairman Powell:
All those opposed, the ayes have it and the item is adopted.

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