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Martin Suggests Broadcasters Spread DTV With More Antennas

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has repeated his suggestion that broadcasters install additional transmitters to fill in blank spots in DTV coverage.

He briefly mentioned such a plan at a Sept. 16 hearing in the House, leaving vague the question of whether this might become a mandate for broadcasters whose signals leave holes. On Sept. 23 at the Senate Commerce Committee, he said he was talking about getting the broadcasters to put in repeaters.

That was in response to a line of questions from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., about losing channels to the "digital cliff," as well as the hazards of rooftop antenna installation in Minnesota in February.

Martin said it was impossible to exactly predict who would be subject to picture loss because of the "digital cliff" effect, but that such viewers would be at the edge of the stations' contours and only 1 percent of viewers would have such problems. Last week, he said 15 percent of all markets could see some loss of a station or more. Martin said that inside stations' coverage contours, people would have no problems. But he also mentioned analyzing coverage and finding and fixing blank areas.

The hearing was sparsely attended because many senators were at other meetings concerning the administration's debt bailout package.

Martin said only 1.2 percent (2,272) of the Wilmington, N.C., market called the FCC hotline with problems. (Hundreds more called local broadcasters.) Some have compared those call-in numbers to the number of over-the-air viewers in the Wilmington DMA—about 14,000—and concluding that more than 10 percent of over-the-air viewers called in.

Committee Chairman Dan Inouye, D-Hawaii, said even "Herculean" efforts in Wilmington led to thousands of calls.

"Feb. 17 is the 29th day of a new administration," he said. "Neither a President Obama or a President McCain should have to deal with a failed transition."

Martin said some of the Wilmington calls led to direct help from FCC engineers to install converter boxes.