FCC Sends Congress Report on SHVERA DTV Signal Measurements

Broadcasters should be happy with the findings in the FCC's Report to Congress - The Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act (SHVERA) of 2005 - Study of Digital Television Field Strength Standards and Testing Procedures. EchoStar and several broadcast organizations were debating the proper procedures for predicting and measuring DTV field strength at homes to determine whether or not those households could receive local DTV network signals and thus were not eligible for DBS service from out-of-market network DTV stations. This debate has been covered in recent RF Technology columns.

After reviewing comments and conducting its own studies, the FCC found:

  • No specific changes are needed to DTV field strength standards and/or planning factors for to determine a household's eligibility to receive retransmitted distant network television signals.

  • The Commission should conduct a rule making proceeding for specification of DTV signal field strength measurement procedures at individual locations that are generally similar to the current procedures for measuring of analog TV station field strength, with certain modifications addressing differences between analog and digital television signals.

  • The existing improved Individual Location Longley-Rice (ILLR) model should be used for prediction as to whether a household is unserved by DTV signals. The Commission recommended that Congress amend copyright law and the Communications Act to allow a predictive model to be used for determining eligibility. The Commission further recommended that Congress provide the FCC with authority to adopt the existing improved ILLR model to aid in determining households that would be eligible to receive retransmitted distant network signals under the SHVERA.

EchoStar had asked that the signal strength standards consider the degraded performance of indoor antennas and outdoor antennas that are not aimed correctly. The FCC dismissed these arguments, by concluding that the current DTV planning factor assumptions for antenna gain, orientation and placement were appropriate and should not be altered. The Commission also concluded that the current signal strength standard for determining whether a household can receive a high-quality picture using antennas of reasonable cost and ease of installation was satisfactory and should not be changed. In addition, the Commission concluded that the DTV signal strength standards should not be modified to reflect that an antenna can be mounted on a roof or placed within a home and is fixed or capable of rotation.

The FCC Report continued that availability of digital TV receive systems that meet or exceed the antenna performance planning factors is not a constraint on the ability of viewers to receive signals under the current noise-limited DTV field strength standards. Also, while the commenting parties did not specifically address the issue of ease of antenna installation, the Commission felt that ease of installation is generally a concern for households in installing the types of antenna needed for use with off-air DTV service. Those antennas are essentially the same as those used for analog TV service and can, in almost all cases, be installed by a household resident, or for a modest charge, by a professional installer.

The report includes a comprehensive report, "Tests of ATSC 8-VSB Reception Performance of Consumer Digital Television Receivers Available in 2005" from the FCC's Technical Research Branch, Laboratory Division at the Office of Engineering and Technology.

The OET laboratory tested 28 consumer DTV receivers, but did not identify the receivers by manufacturer. Receivers are compared by price. The tests found that there was no relationship between the ability of the tested DTV receivers to receive off-air signals and the price of the receivers.

The Report to Congress - The Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act of 2005 - Study of Digital Television Field Strength Standards and Testing Procedures totals 149 pages, not counting the exhibits from Hammett and Edison that the FCC was not able to integrate into the report due to their formatting. Look for more information the Report and the OET laboratory tests in a future RF Technology column in TV Technology.