Final Rules in Place for Replacement DTV Translators

Last Friday the FCC released the Report and Order (FCC 09-36) with rules for the Replacement Digital Television Translator Service. The Replacement Digital Television Translator Service gives broadcasters a simple way to reach viewers that will lose service when stations shut off their analog transmitters on June 12. It will also provide broadcasters with a way to fill in gaps in coverage that existed due to terrain obstructions.

Broadcasters have been given an opportunity to apply for channels, but if they don't act soon others could file for the prime analog channels being vacated on June 12.

"The new 'fill-in' replacement translator service is specifically aimed at problems created by the digital television transition and is for use within full-service stations' service contours," the FCC said in a statement.

It doesn't address reception outside of the stations' service areas but the commission will soon take action on that as well. The FCC said it will soon initiate first-come, first-serve licensing for new TV translator facilities outside of stations contours.

Broadcasters will lose any claim to their analog channels after June 12. As discussed in RF Report and my RF Technology column in TV Technology, in-core analog channels, even low-VHF channels, could be used for one or more replacement DTV translators to provide service to analog viewers unable to receive the full-power DTV signal.

The FCC did not mention a filing window for low power TV or Class A licenses, but LPTV and Class A stations can file displacement applications to move to these vacated analog frequencies any time after June 12.

Replacement DTV translators must use core Channels 2 through 51. Unlike other TV translators, replacement DTV translators will be tied to the primary station's license and cannot be sold or transferred except as part of a sale of the primary station. Replacement DTV translators license terms will match the primarily station's license. Applications for replacement DTV translators will have priority over other applications except for LPTV and TV translator displacement applications, which have equal priority. The FCC agreed with comments from the NAB, the Association for Maximum Service Television and the Consumer Electronics Association that replacement DTV translators should have the same four-letter call sign and TSID as the primary station.

Stations have other options for improving coverage. Increasing height or power is an option, but many stations may already be operating at the maximum possible power due to interference to other stations or FCC power/height limitations. Distributed transmission systems (DTS) provide a way to fill in coverage, but they are significantly more expensive to install than a DTV translator and require careful design to avoid interfering with the main TV station. I'll have more information on DTS and on-channel repeater options in next month's RF Technology column.

If your station has areas in its coverage area where viewers are having trouble receiving the DTV signal, take time to look for a channel for a replacement DTV translator.

Read all of RF Reporthere.

Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. As vice president of Broadcast Technology for NBCUniversal Local, H. Douglas Lung leads NBC and Telemundo-owned stations’ RF and transmission affairs, including microwave, radars, satellite uplinks, and FCC technical filings. Beginning his career in 1976 at KSCI in Los Angeles, Lung has nearly 50 years of experience in broadcast television engineering. Beginning in 1985, he led the engineering department for what was to become the Telemundo network and station group, assisting in the design, construction and installation of the company’s broadcast and cable facilities. Other projects include work on the launch of Hawaii’s first UHF TV station, the rollout and testing of the ATSC mobile-handheld standard, and software development related to the incentive auction TV spectrum repack.
A longtime columnist for TV Technology, Doug is also a regular contributor to IEEE Broadcast Technology. He is the recipient of the 2023 NAB Television Engineering Award. He also received a Tech Leadership Award from TV Tech publisher Future plc in 2021 and is a member of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and the Society of Broadcast Engineers.