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Limited Window for Stations to Build Out 'Replacement Translators'

One of the items on the canceled Open Commission meeting last week was the creation of a new “replacement” digital television translator service.

Late Tuesday (the evening before Christmas Eve), the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) (FCC 08-278) to establish rules for replacement digital low power translator stations. Since the analog shutdown is less than two months away, it isn't surprising the comment period is only 10 days after publication in the Federal Register with reply comments due only 10 days after the comment period ends.

The comment period isn't the only thing accelerated in this NPRM. Licensees would have only six-months to build out the replacement DTV translators after the CPs were granted. In the case of mutually exclusive applications, applicants would have 10 days to settle or find an engineering solution; otherwise the winner would be determined by the FCC's broadcast competitive bidding rules.

The NPRM proposes limiting the service area of the translator to a demonstrated loss area, but the FCC is open to allowing the replacement translator to nominally expand the full-service station's analog service area in order to fully cover the loss area. The FCC asked for comment on how to define this “de minimis” expansion area.

Replacement DTV translators would be secondary to full-service TV stations, certain land-mobile radio operations and other primary services. However, for application processing, replacement DTV translator applications would take priority over all other secondary applications except LPTV displacement applications, which would have equal priority.

Replacement DTV translators would be allowed on Channels 2-59, although applicants proposing use of Channels 52-59 would have to demonstrate that no in-core channel was available.

Unlike current translators, replacement DTV translator licenses cannot be separated from the full-service station license. The NPRM states, “The license for the replacement digital television translator will be associated with the full power station’s main license and may not be separately assigned or transferred and will be renewed with the full-service station’s main license.”

One option for stations wanting to take advantage of the rules would be to use their current analog channel or the analog channel of another broadcaster in the market for the digital replacement translator. For this reason, the FCC should consider whether it is appropriate to allow current LPTV stations, especially Class A stations which have primary status, to apply for these not yet vacant full service analog channels until full-service stations have had an opportunity to use these channels to maintain service to analog viewers unable to receive their post-transition DTV channel.

Read more of Doug Lung's RF Reporthere.