LPTV Advocates Eye Cellular Alternative

After years of what one of its representative characterized as “abusive behavior from the industry,” the Community Broadcasters Association has shuttered its operations and is hitching its wagon to an alternate cellular technology.

The CBA, which represented low power and Class A TV stations before ceasing operations July 15, still maintains its Web site and -800 number, but former Executive Director Amy Brown has taken on a new position as director of industry relations with Cellular Terrestrial Broadcasting, a consortium of low power TV stations that allows members to dedicate a portion of their spectrum to new terrestrial broadcast services, including multichannel video distribution, datacasting and high speed broadband.

“This unified group of broadcasters will have a much stronger message and have commonalities and common goals when they go to Congress,” Brown said, adding that, since the association represented such a diverse group, “we weren’t always able to please all those operators.” There are an estimated nearly 3,000 LPTV stations and Class A TV stations in the United States.

So far, 118 LPTV stations have joined the CTB, which does not require a membership fee. Instead, members sign a letter of intent to provide a portion of their spectrum for new services. CTB also plans to fund the construction of digital facilities for its members.

Greg Herman, CBA’s vice president of technology described CTB’s approach as a “rather unique technology to cellularize broadcast television. It’s ATSC but it’s cellular in that it allows the same kind of reuse of bandwidth within the cell, so it amplifies what ATSC does significantly. We’re hoping that by working with them, the stations that join will actually ‘leapfrog’ the full power industry in terms of the robustness of their transmitter infrastructure and what you can do with it.”

It’s easy to understand the battle weariness of the CBA, which struggled to get its message across to government regulators, especially during the long DTV transition. For several years, the association had aggressively lobbied both the industry and the National Telecommunications and Information Association, which managed the federal government’s DTV converter box program, to ensure that the boxes included analog pass-through capability so that consumers could continue to receive LPTV and Class A TV signals after full power broadcasting ended. LPTV and Class A stations were not required to go digital under the government’s DTV transition rules.

The association’s efforts to publicize the fact that low power analog broadcasting would continue after the DTV transition were additionally stymied by NTIA’s transfer of $18 million from a program for low power broadcasters to a DTV educational effort that didn’t even note that fact, according to Herman.

In addition, a federal government program to provide financial assistance to help LPTV and Class A stations build out DTV facilities is “anemic” and “poorly administered,” according to Herman. “The funding is there but it won’t help anybody,” he said. “It’s not enough money to do anybody any good.”

These reasons, among others, are why Brown and Herman are advocating a new approach for the low power industry.

“We’re looking to the future and we’re not counting on anything from the government, but rather finding technical solutions that are so compelling and intelligent regardless of whether the FCC can conceive them,” Herman said. “The CBA may have failed, but if we can reboot this industry and load up a new set of offerings, the best days of low power television may be in front of it.”

Brown adds, “I believe CTB is one of the last remaining alternatives for LPTV operators. Without someone like CTB, we won’t be able to survive long-term.”