July 1 DTV Deadlines

Is your station identifying its DTV channel and is its PSIP fully compliant with the ATSC A/65b standard? Is your station affiliated with ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC in a top 100 market and required to meet the DTV coverage certified in last year's Form 381 filing? If so, just more than two weeks remain to meet FCC deadlines. Effective July 1, all DTV stations will have to meet the same identification procedure specified for analog TV stations in FCC Section 73.1201. If the DTV station is simulcasting the analog signal and is not identified separately, the station ID has to include both the analog and digital (-DT) call letters. As allowed in Section 73.1201, stations can insert the station's frequency, channel number or network/licensee name between the call letters and the community of license. However, if the DTV channel is specified, the major channel number (same as the analog channel) must be used. Multicast channels can be identified using the major and minor channel numbers. For example, a station with analog channel 2 could identify its analog signal as channel 2.0 and its DTV channel multicast programs as 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, etc.

I've heard that the FCC has informed stations that requested an extension of time to meet the requirement for transmitting all required ATSC A/65b PSIP data that no new extensions would be granted and warned enforcement actions against non-A/65b PSIP compliant stations could start July 1. During a stop in West Los Angeles this weekend I used my laptop and the portable TSReader/V@Box configuration I described in my June 8, 2005 RF Technology column (not yet available on www.tvtechnology.com) along with a Terk log-periodic indoor antenna (with built-in preamplifier) to see how many L.A. stations were in compliance. Even with this simple setup, looking through a wall, a row of trees and a freeway I was able to successfully receive 15 DTV stations, although antenna placement was critical and the preamplifier had to be switched on.

It was clear some Los Angeles stations have work to do before July 1. One station had no PSIP data except for the PAT and PMT. I know this station had been sending PSIP before, but it appears over the weekend its PSIP generator failed. When checked again Monday, PSIP, including EIA708 closed captioning, was working fine. Excluding this station, two stations had PIDs set for EIT/ETT program guide information, but didn't appear to be transmitting any guides or data. Three stations had major STT (system time) errors. Two were one hour off, apparently due to an incorrect daylight savings time setting, and one had an error greater than 10 minutes. Many stations had smaller time errors. One station had perfect PSIP but was transmitting programming on PIDs below 0x0030, which is now illegal. While most stations were transmitting EIA608 closed captioning, only a few also had EIA708 DTV closed captioning, which is now required. It is possible in some of these cases, had I monitored the station longer or waited for a different program I might have seen EIA708 captioning.

Most broadcasters are aware of the July 1, 2005 and July 1, 2006 DTV coverage deadlines. Stations affiliated with ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC in the top 100 markets have to have built out DTV facilities specified on their November Form 381 filings if they are not changing DTV channels at the end of the transition. Stations moving to a different channel after the transition are obligated to provide coverage to the same number of people receiving the stations' Grade B analog signal. Stations not affiliated with these four networks or outside the top 100 markets have until July 1, 2006 to build out their Form 381 facilities if they are not changing DTV channel or provide 80 percent of their analog Grade B population with a DTV signal if they are changing channels.

During the NAB Webcast/conference call last year, there were indications the FCC would allow stations that were unable to meet the full coverage requirements due to situations such as unavailability of tower space (i.e. the analog antenna occupies the top spot on the tower, reducing DTV coverage from lower side mounted antennas below what was certified even at 1,000 kW ERP) or zoning issues a limited waiver of this coverage requirement. I've heard the FCC may issue a Public Notice describing procedures for stations in this situation.