Southwest Stations Face Possible Border Snafu

Three TV stations close to the Mexican border say a “surprise and unorthodox” New Year’s Eve move by the FCC, combined with the FCC’s inability to obtain Mexican agreement on broadcasters at the border, could force the Americans into post-transition DTV facilities with smaller coverage area than the maximized area previously anticipated.

Gulf-California Broadcast company told the FCC Feb. 29 that KESQ (Palm Springs, Calif.), KECY (El Centro, Calif./Yuma, Ariz.) and KVIA (El Paso, Texas) could have their DTV plans blocked by a provision in the FCC’s Dec. 31 order on the final DTV buildout rules: “A station seeking to maximize that cannot obtain international coordination for such facilities may be required to construct facilities with a smaller coverage area.”

The broadcasters call that sentence an unexpected departure from FCC precedent.

“At this late date in the FCC’s 10-year-long digital TV transition process, it is surprising at best for the FCC to suggest for the first time that, if Mexico does not timely grant the needed concurrences, then some stations ... may NOT be permitted by the U.S. government to construct their proposed digital facilities,” the company wrote. “After working closely and effectively with all American TV licensees since 1997 to develop detailed post-transition digital proposals, the FCC now purports to adopt a new policy that, absent the FCC’s ability to obtain Mexican concurrences for digital operations (on NTSC channels that Mexico previously has approved for analog operations), then some stations simply will have to accept ‘a smaller coverage area’ that does not fully meet the needs of these stations’ analog viewers.”

The company calls the situation arbitrary and unlawful and says the provision should be set aside.

“The FCC should adhere to its long-held policy and its consistent plan to obtain the necessary Mexican concurrences for all U.S./Mexican border stations to construct the digital TV facilities that they have proposed, in order to serve their current viewers,” the company wrote.