Feds Disperse $35 Million for LPTV Digital Transition

WASHINGTON: The federal government has distributed $35 million for transitioning low-power TV stations and translators to digital technology. A total of $44 million was allocated in May 2009, for helping LPTV and translator stations upgrade their operations. A transition deadline for LPTVs and translators had not been set when the program was put in place, but the FCC recently released a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking suggesting an end date in mid-2012.

The federal grant program is being administered by the Commerce Department through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. One program was set up for covering conversion technology, and another for upgrades. The first program allowed for grants up to $1,000 for stations to purchase digital-to-analog conversion equipment for converting incoming full-power digital signals to analog for broadcasting. The second program supporting facilities upgrades allowed for grants up to $6,000 to “refit” analog equipment for digital transmission, or up to $20,000 to fully replace analog gear. The NTIA’s list of eligible equipment includes transmitting and receiving antennas, translators, line and related equipment.

The fund was established in 2008 with an allocation of $65 million, with the allowance that a portion could be used for the digital-to-analog converter box program. Under that program, U.S. residents were able to obtain $40 coupons good toward set-tops that would decode digital signals for analog TV sets. NTIA transferred $16.2 million of the LPTV fund into the converter-box program.

Licensed LPTV, Class A, translator and booster stations are eligible for the conversion and upgrade grants. There are around 7,000 in the country. Applications are due the first business day each month as long as funds are available. There is around $9 million left in the fund, based on the running total.

All full-power TV stations in the country completed the digital transition last June. The same deadline did not apply to the low-power classes, and none has officially been established. The FCC’s notice was issued in late September, with a comment-and-reply period of 90 days subsequent. -- Deborah D. McAdams