SBE Getting Hot About Digital STL Permits

TV stations that broadcast high-definition digital signals have to get the data from the studio to the transmitter, possibly by microwave link. But first, those stations need permission from the FCC.

The Society of Broadcast Engineers says that hardware nowadays enables stations to send their NTSC signal along with an HD signal in the same bandwidth they're already permitted to use. But, the SBE says, the FCC still requires a Special Temporary Authority for that studio-to-transmitter link (STL).

Monday, in a heated letter to House Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and other lawmakers, the SBE complained that the FCC has been unresponsive in its request to give stations a blanket waiver for the digital STLs.

Stations need that blanket waiver, the SBE says, because an STL must be renewed every six months, requiring fees and tying up station time with paperwork.

The microwaves in question are in the 7- and 13-GHz bands. The SBE is having the same issue, it says, in the 2- and 2.5-GHz broadcast auxiliary service band often used for remote newsgathering and sports.

The SBE says that FCC officials said they were working on the issue back on May 2 and promised to get a draft report and order to the commissioners in June. The SBE followed up in July and the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology contact would not say whether the item was before the commissioners. Nor has the SBE received a reply to a May 8 letter to Powell, the society says.

"With apparently no action in sight on a rule change to allow digital STLs, SBE is electing to take a stronger approach," the society wrote Tauzin. "SBE accordingly asks that you query the FCC and ask why the FCC still will not routinely allow as standard licensing procedure pure digital or hybrid analog-digital STLs for TV stations needing to either commence DTV operation and/or permit transmission of a true high-definition signal rather than merely duplicating their NTSC standard-definition signal."

An FCC spokeswoman said the issue is a high priority but the FCC generally does not discuss the status of policy items still under discussion.