FCC Denies Station Overlap, Assigns Interim Virtual Channel to WJLP

The FCC's Media Bureau has assigned virtual channel 33 to WJLP-TV, licensed to PMCM TV, LLC, RF channel 3, for use on an interim basis. Meredith Corp., licensee of WFSB, RF channel 33, virtual channel 3, in Hartford, Conn. had filed an informal objection to PMCM's application for a construction permit for the station, objecting solely to PMCM's future operation on virtual channel 3, the same virtual channel used by WFBS.

On Sept. 29, WJLP-TV notified the FCC it had completed construction and was commencing equipment tests as of that date. The Oct. 23 FCC Media Bureau Letter assigning WJLP-TV virtual channel 33 on an interim basis states, “On October 3, 2014, Meredith, ION Media License Company (ION) and CBS Broadcasting Inc. (CBS) (collectively the Joint Parties) made a joint filing stating that as of September 30, 2014, PMCM “has commenced program-length commercial programming and network (ME-TV) programming identifying itself as ‘Channel 3’ and using virtual channel 3.10, which it can only use if it obtains a waiver that the Commission has never issued.' The Joint Parties further request that the Media Bureau 'immediately notify [PMCM] that any further equipment or program tests initiated by [WJLP-TV] . . . must use virtual channel 33 pending final action by the Commission in [MB Docket No. 14-150]...' According to the Joint Parties, Meredith station WFSB(TV) and CBS station KYW-TV, RF channel 26, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, both operate with virtual channel 3 and have contour overlap with WJLP-TV; ION’s station WPXN-TV, New York, New York, is carried on channel 3 on Cablevision cable systems in the New York DMA. “The Joint Parties further assert that because PMCM’s station is being newly licensed in the market, it 'has no existing identification with virtual channel 3 among its potential viewers' and '[r]equiring [WJLP-TV] to use virtual channel 33 for equipment and program tests thus would not harm [WJLP-TV] or engender viewer confusion.'”

PMCM filed a response on Oct. 7, suggesting its use of virtual channel 3.10 is consistent with the Media Bureau's July 25, 2014 letter ruling waiving Section 76.64(f)(4) of the rules to allow certain MVPD's to defer implementing the must-carry request and channel position election of PMCM for WJLP-TV until 90 days after the data of the final decision on WJLP-TV's virtual channel. PMCM said that by adopting a two-part channel number (3.10) that was different than that used by any other broadcaster with an overlapping service area it is complying with the Media Bureau's directive. This letter said that that letter did not address the merits of the appropriate virtual channel for WJLP-TV and cannot be read as sanctioning PMCM's use of virtual channel 3.10.

The Oct. 23 Media Bureau letter states, “The PSIP Standard does not provide for or require the sharing of virtual channels by licensees with overlapping contours that are not commonly owned, and we have not yet ruled on PMCM’s 'Alternative PSIP Proposal.' Because PMCM has no inherent right to use virtual channel 3 at this time, which is already used by WFSB(TV) and KYW-TV in areas that are also covered by WJLP-TV, we believe it appropriates that WJLP-TV operate with the virtual channel assigned under the PSIP Standard while we consider PMCM’s 'Alternative PSIP Proposal' in MB Docket No. 14-150.”

For more on this case, see my Sept. 22 article New Low-VHF DTV Stations Causing PSIP Problems. Overlap is more of a problem for stations operating on low VHF RF channels because the FCC sets 28 dBµV/m contour as the service area for these stations, compared to 41 dBµV/m (nominal) for stations operating on UHF RF channels. Even if there is little overlap in actual over-the-air reception, duplicate virtual channels can create problems if both stations want the same cable channel number.

While the FCC's incentive auction could lead to more stations on low-VHF channels, as long as the commission does not allow those stations to extend their contours beyond the contour they have using their current virtual channel it shouldn't cause any problems. I can see a remote possibility of virtual channel conflicts if low-VHF DTV stations are allowed to extend their service areas. Given the problems with low-VHF DTV reception due to poor indoor antennas, electrical interference and the size of outdoor antennas required for good reception I doubt most over-the-air viewers will experience problems, although I have received emails about specific problems in central New Jersey with WACP and WNBC (both virtual channel 4). Those viewers were in locations where they could receive both Philadelphia and New York City stations.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.