FCC Wants Comments on Analog Shutdown Plan

The shutdown of analog TV is rapidly approaching. Some stations are already operating with their post-transition DTV facilities, and will only have to turn off the analog transmitter on Feb. 18, 2009. Other stations may be operating with the facilities specified in Appendix B of the Seventh Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, but were unable to file applications to improve coverage due to interference to analog TV stations.

Many of these stations will want to increase power to remain competitive in their market after analog ends. During the DTV channel election process, many stations specified antenna heights based on their analog antennas and will need to change from sidemount to topmount antennas to achieve full DTV coverage. If they are returning to their analog channel with the same antenna pattern, this shouldn't be a problem. If they are staying on their current DTV channel, it poses the problem of how to move the DTV antenna without turning off analog and possibly interrupting the digital signal before Feb. 18, 2009. Finally, some stations are moving to a channel other than their current analog or digital channel. Where do they put this third antenna?

The FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Third Periodic Review of the DTV transition discusses how stations in these situations must deal with the February 2009 deadline. The NPRM also describes changes to FCC forms and rules. I doubt many of the other articles you will see on this NPRM will focus on this. In my opinion, the form changes will likely become law even if the rules underlying them change in response to NPRM comments.

One of the proposals that may attract opposition is a requirement that stations build out their post-transition facilities to serve at least 95 percent of the population on Feb. 18, 2009. Stations using sidemounted DTV antennas near the top of the tower on their post-transition channel should be able to meet this requirement. However, it may be a problem for stations with limited DTV coverage due to interference to analog TV. Such stations may have been frozen at this level of coverage during the channel election process and want to improve their post-transition coverage.

Unless the FCC can move quickly to process modification requests, stations moving to a new channel and also seeking to improve coverage may have to find space for a third antenna, purchase it, and install it while waiting for the FCC to approve a change in coverage. The good news is the FCC proposes allowing modification applications that would cause less than 0.5 percent interference to stations' facilities as specified in Appendix B.

The NPRM proposes allowing stations to temporarily remain on their in-core pre-transition DTV channel provided they serve at least the same area and population that receives their current analog TV and DTV service; and they don't cause impermissible interference to other stations or prevent other stations from making the transition.

This should allow stations to swap equipment and allow a limited number of tower crews to focus on stations that have to move from out-of-core DTV channels. MSTV is setting up a Web site, www.mstvads.org to provide a location where broadcasters can list equipment for sale that they won't need post-transition.

To comply with the FCC's DTV build-out requirement on final DTV channels, some stations may be forced to reduce analog coverage. The FCC addresses this in the NPRM and proposes some flexibility in allowing reduction in analog coverage before February 2009, although it appears this flexibility would be limited for stations affiliated with the top four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) in some circumstances.

The FCC proposed a new rule section, 73.616, for adding a new channel to the DTV Table of Allotments and for changing post-transition DTV stations. The rule states, "An application must not cause interference to more than the greater of either 0.5 percent of the population served by the other station or the amount of interference already predicted to be caused by the applicant's authorized facility." Sec. 73.682, TV Transmission Standards, would be modified to refer to updated ATSC standards A/53, A/54, and A/65.

Appendix B of the NPRM lists proposed changes to FCC forms. Form 301 would add service types of DTV pre-transition, DTV post-transition and DTV both (pre- and post-transition). The modified 301 will also include an option for post-transition checklist applications.

The checklist requirements are similar to those for pre-transition checklist applications. The proposed modification states, "A station applying for a construction permit to build its post-transition channel will receive expedited processing if its application (1) does not seek to expand the noise-limited service contour in any direction beyond that established by Appendix B of the Seventh Report and Order in MB Docket No. 87-268...; (2) specifies facilities that match or closely approximate those defined in the new DTV Table Appendix B facilities; and (3) is filed within 45 days of the effective date of Sec. 73.616 of the rules adopted in the Report and Order in the Third DTV Periodic Review proceeding, MB Docket No. 07-91."

The form asks stations requesting checklist processing to certify, "It will operate at post-transition facilities that match or reduce by no more than 5 percent with respect to predicted population from those defined in the new DTV Table Appendix B." In addition to "yes" and "no," there is a box to check "don't know."

The FCC also proposed creating a new Form 387--DTV Transition Status Report. Stations that aren't operating with their post-transition facilities would be required to submit a DTV Transition Plan. Form 387 states; "Licensee/permittee must describe in detail its plans for ceasing analog broadcasting by the Feb. 17, 2009 transition date and for completing construction of its post-transition facility by the deadline. For example, plan must include a detailed timeline of the licensee/permittee's plans to complete construction and any necessary testing of the licensee/permittee's full, authorized post-transition facility."

There is also a "Next Steps" section on the form where stations check what needs have to be addressed before "it can fully construct and operate its final, DTV (post-transition) facility." There is a long checklist, including items such as "new antenna," "new transmitter," "switch sidemounted DTV antenna with topmounted analog antenna" and licensee/permittee needs to change its tower location or construct a new tower. Stations would have to check all items that apply, describe any checked issues and provide an estimated date of resolution.

I've only touched on some of the issues raised in the NPRM in the Third Periodic Review of the commission's DTV transition rules. Some of the other issues in the NPRM I haven't discussed include a request for comment on station identification rules, coordination with cable and satellite operators, and requests to flash-cut from analog to digital.

The NPRM will have a short comment period--30 days after publication in the Federal Register and an even shorter reply comment period--15 days after the send of the comment period. When reviewing the NPRM, pay close attention to the deadlines and the limited opportunity for extensions. Close cooperation between the FCC and broadcasters and between broadcasters will be essential for a successful DTV transition.