New rules for digital low-power TV and translators

The FCC has established rules to allow for the digital conversion of low-power TV (LPTV) and TV translator stations.

The commission determined that a digital LPTV station must use some of its channel capacity to provide a free video programming service to the public. Upon meeting this requirement, LPTV stations may offer ancillary and supplementary services on the same basis as DTV broadcast licensees. As to the timing of the digital transition for these stations, LPTV, TV translator and Class A stations are required to convert to digital operation, but the FCC has discretion to set the date by which analog operations of these stations must cease.

Existing LPTV and TV translator stations may convert to digital operations (flash-cut) on their current channel. Applications for this purpose will be accepted on a first-come, first serve basis, the order said.

Mutually exclusive applicants will be resolved by auction. In addition, to facilitate their digital transition, licensees and permittees of LPTV, TV translator and Class A stations will be allowed to seek a digital companion channel for their analog station operations. A filing window for this purpose will be announced at a later date.

The commission will determine the deadline and process for stations’ obtaining a digital companion channel to return one of their channels. At a later date, the commission will institute a separate first-come-first-served filing procedure not limited to incumbent low-power stations.

Due to limited spectrum availability, the order makes available VHF channels 2-13, inclusive, and UHF channels 14-51, inclusive (except channel 37) for digital LPTV and TV translator operations. The order also permits the use of channels 52-69 on a limited basis. Existing LPTV and TV translator stations on channels 52-69 may flash-cut to digital operations. The use of channels 52-59 for digital companion channels is limited to those stations that can certify the unavailability of any in-core channel (channels 2-51). The use of channels 60-69 for companion channels is prohibited.

Applicants for operations on channels 52-69 must notify potentially affected commercial wireless and public safety licensees before filing their applications. Additionally, applicants proposing to flash-cut to digital on channels allocated for public safety use (channels 63, 64, 68 and 69) are required to coordinate with regional and state entities representing potentially affected public safety licensees.

All digital LPTV and TV translator stations will operate on a secondary, non-interfering basis with respect to primary services, including the commercial wireless and public safety services. The order adopts for digital stations in the LPTV service the protected contour values for digital Class A stations. For digital stations in the LPTV and Class A services, the order replaces the current contour protection methodology with the DTV interference prediction methodology.

For more information on the order (FCC 04-220), visit

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