FCC Quantifies DTV Coverage

Procedure launched to fill in gaps

So much for no TV left behind, the broadcast lobby’s cheeky adaptation of the president’s education policy. The FCC has released data that quantifies coverage loss, and more recently, opened a docket to alleviate it.

“Approximately 18 percent of stations--319--are predicted to lose coverage of 2 percent or more of the existing population they reached with their analog signals,” the report reads. “However, about half of these stations are predicted to have an overall net gain in population served.”

The change in coverage is attributed to relocation of transmitters, towers and antennas, and in some cases, the digital “cliff effect” at which point analog TV signals get snowy, while digital pictures go bye-bye. The FCC recently approved of the use of cell-phone like distributed transmission to alleviate some of this potential coverage loss, but it was rather late in the game since most stations already had transmission schemes in place. (Paige Albiniak covers the gaps in “Confronting the Cliff Effect” in the December issue of TVB.)

Some of the TV stations in Los Angeles, for example, appear to be victims of the cliff effect, based on the coverage maps accompanying the FCC’s report. Most stations in the market transmit from Mount Wilson, a peak in the San Gabriels northeast and about 5,000 feet above the city. KNBC-TV, KCBS-TV, and KTLA-TV all appear to have substantial coverage loss outside of Los Angeles proper, even though the signal itself is shown reaching these areas. Most are beyond the mountain ranges surrounding the city.

The FCC recommends that affected stations alleviate coverage gaps with translators, distributed transmission, other stations’ multicast feed, “fill-in stations that operate on a different channel,” or possibly a different antenna configuration.

The commission also released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would allow stations to install digital translators immediately under Special Temporary Authority. In the meantime, the commission will cogitate the rules to transition all of the nation’s 4,700 translators--essentially licensed facilities that amplify a station’s signal.

Translators are prevalent in less-populated areas and more forbidding terrain. Both translators and around 2,100 low-power TV stations were not included in the DTV transition mandate, and therefore received no post-transition digital channel assignment the way full-power stations did.

Consequently, translators and LPTVs will have to ferret out available assignments in the core 52-to59 TV channel spectrum, amid flash-cutting full-power stations, those powering different antennas and eventually, unlicensed devices.

Applications for full-power TV stations seeking translator STAs will begin Jan. 5; the form is available at: http://www.fcc.gov/mb/cdbs.html. The filing fee is $160.