Full service and community broadcasters square off over low-power DTV transmissions

Commercial broadcasters continue to oppose any government move to allow low power DTV transmissions by Class A, LPTV and translator stations during the transition from analog broadcasting. Community broadcasters respond that such an action would result in a major public disservice from the broadcasters that are actually closest to the communities they serve.

The new filings before the FCC are arriving as the commissioners address the controversial issue of digital transmission interference by or with low power broadcasters.

The FCC “should not lose sight of the underlying fact that it is the full power television service that is driving the DTV transition and that will ultimately spur consumers to embrace digital technology,” said a filing on behalf of full power stations. It was written by representatives of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV).

“Interference to full power DTV service—already a problem based on existing services alone—has the potential to throw the transition off course,” the groups warned.

The Community Broadcasters Association (CBA), the trade association representing the country’s Class A and LPTV stations, said interference standards should not be any more of an obstacle than is necessary to avoid destructive interference that results in loss of terrestrial service to the public. The CBA suggests that the present system be retained, where a prohibition of overlap between interfering and protected contours is established as the initial test. The terrain-based Longley-Rice method is available when the contour method produces an unnecessarily restrictive result, the group said.

The NAB and MSTV told the FCC that it should require low power operators to flash-cut to digital on-channel, rather than provide dual services.

The CBA responded that “flash-cut from analog to digital operation on a single channel may well be suicidal to a station, because it will instantly cut off a substantial portion of the station’s potential audience. Therefore, it is vital that the Commission entertain applications for second channels during the transition, in any instance where a second channel can be found consistent with interference rules.”

Beyond technical issues, the CBA raised public interest issues in the debate as well. “The public interest strongly requires that the Commission make a special effort to enable Class A/LPTV stations to make the digital transition.” the group said. “These stations have the greatest representation of any mass media service in terms of local ownership, local programming, niche programming, small business ownership, minority and female ownership and management.”

Last year, the FCC made a tentative decision that LPTV stations receive a second channel for DTV transmission. However, final rules governing such transmissions are still pending due to the current comment period.

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