FCC to fill DTV gaps

A digital translator can bolster DTV coverage

On Dec. 23, 2008, the FCC released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would allow full-power TV stations to apply for digital replacement translators, which can fill in gaps in the coverage of stations' primary DTV signals. These filings are being accepted even though applications for new translators generally may not be filed without an application window, which the FCC evidently does not intend to open for the replacement translator service.

The new replacement service is intended to fill in holes in signal coverage resulting from the DTV transition, so the FCC has put the NPRM on a fast track. Comments will be due a mere 10 days after the proposals are published in the Federal Register. And even before the comments start, applications are being accepted. The FCC authorized the Media Bureau to start accepting applications in late December. While the applications may not be granted until the rulemaking is completed, the staff can grant special temporary authority for replacement facilities.

How to file an application

Applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis, with the earliest filed application getting priority. If more than one mutually exclusive application is filed on the same day, the FCC will allow a 10-day settlement period. If there is no settlement, the applications will be held for a future auction — most likely a year or more hence.

Replacement translators may be requested only by the licensee of a full-power station and only to fill in an area covered by the station's analog signal but not covered by its digital signal (although the FCC asks whether de minimis extensions of the analog service area should be permitted, and if so, how de minimis should be defined). The translator license will be ancillary to the full-power license, so it cannot be sold or assigned apart from the full-power station. Presumably, a replacement translator may not convert to LPTV status or originate separate programming, although the FCC does not explicitly say that in the NPRM.

Applicants must first search for a channel in the range 2-51. If no channel is available, an application may be filed for channels 52-59, with notice to be given to local public safety entities that will ultimately have access to those channels. Stations are also encouraged to consider three alternatives: installing multiple transmitters on their full-power channels, under the recently adopted distributed transmission systems rules; buying time on existing LPTV stations; and buying time on another full-power station's secondary digital stream. Exhausting these possibilities is not, however, a prerequisite for filing for a replacement digital translator, but some commenters will undoubtedly request that replacement translators be a solution of last resort. The FCC also proposes a use-it-or-lose-it policy, where replacement translator construction permits are valid for only six months rather than the traditional three years.

Applications for replacement translators will have priority over all other Class A, LPTV and TV translator applications, except applications for displacement relief where a station is forced off its channel by interference. Replacement translators will have equal priority with displacement applications. Presumably, the first-come, first-served principle would protect earlier filed displacements. However, pending applications for new or modified Class A, LPTV and TV translator stations, including digital companion channels, could be bumped by a replacement translator application. Seemingly, all granted Class A, LPTV and TV translator applications would be protected, even if the facility isn't built.

Harry C. Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth, PLC.


  • April 1 is the deadline for TV stations in the following states to file their biennial ownership reports: Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
  • April 1 is the deadline for TV stations and Class A stations in the following states and territories to place their 2009 EEO public file reports in their public files and post them on their Web sites: Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas. LPTV stations originating programming in these states, which are not required to have public files, must post these reports on their Web sites and keep them in their station records.
  • Also on April 1, all TV stations (but not Class A stations) in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, regardless of the number of persons employed at the station, must electronically file an EEO midterm report using FCC Form 397.

Send questions and comments to: harry.martin@penton.com