Martin Wants Full-Power Broadcasters to Help Low-Power

FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin this week issued a proposal for the 7,300 low-power, Class A and translator stations that are not required to end analog anytime soon. And he’s looking to full-power broadcasters to help out with any extra DTV spectrum they might have lying around.

First, Martin proposed a “goal” of 2012 for all such stations to go digital.

Then, he encouraged full-power stations to voluntarily “clear their signals to the extent they have excess digital capacity” as a temporary means to help low-power stations through the conversion.

Martin said this could be done with the full-power broadcasters’ existing spectrum and facilities. He said such stations should be reimbursed for their costs.

This part of the proposal does not address the issue of translator stations that service places full-power broadcasters don’t reach.

Martin also beseeched cable and satellite to voluntarily expand their carriage of low-power stations.

Next, he encouraged manufacturers to include analog pass-through on at least one of the converter boxes.

Cable, which five months ago helped forge a compromise plan with the FCC for three years of analog carriage of regular old full-power stations, would have none of it.

“The chairman has proposed a new and unprecedented must-carry mandate for low-power television stations, injecting new uncertainty and potential litigation at a critical time in the DTV transition,” National Cable and Telecommunications Association boss Kyle McSlarrow told the House Telecommunications Subcommittee Wednesday. “Obligating cable operators to carry upwards of 2,800 LPTV signals—which Congress determined were not entitled to must-carry unless they meet specific statutory criteria—imposes an unacceptable, unconstitutional new burden.”

NAB wouldn’t comment on the proposal, but it has formed a committee to address the issue and called on manufacturers to include the analog pass-through in the converter boxes.

Martin’s proposal came in a letter to NAB, the NCTA, the Consumer Electronics Association, the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition and the Satellite Industry Association.