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FCC moves on distributed transmission guidelines, rulemaking

The FCC took steps this month to clarify its existing guidelines for stations’ interim use of Distributed Transmission Systems and launched a rulemaking about the future use of DTS by digital television stations.

On Nov. 4, the commission adopted a Clarification Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

DTS technology allows stations to employ multiple synchronized transmitters spread around a station’s service area, rather than a single-transmitter, enabling broadcasters to fill gaps in service coverage. Each transmitter broadcasts the station’s DTV signal on the same channel, similar to analog TV booster stations but more efficiently. The major benefit of DTS is offering over-the-air service in areas previously blocked by terrain.

In its Second DTV Periodic Review Report and Order, adopted in August 2004, the commission approved the use of DTS and set guidelines for DTV stations’ interim use of the technology. It also committed to launch a proceeding to make rules for DTS operations.

The Clarification Order reiterates that DTS transmitters operating on an interim basis must be located within the DTV station’s predicted noise-limited service contour, which is based on the station’s existing authorization.

The Notice proposed rules to govern the use of DTS as an alternative to single transmitter systems for digital television stations and seeks comment on how DTV receivers and converter boxes will work where stations use DTS. The proposed rules for DTS service would provide for stations to use DTS to serve currently authorized areas. They would also allow stations to apply to maximize their coverage using DTS once the current freeze on the filing of most DTV applications is lifted.

The rulemaking notice proposes:

  • to afford primary regulatory status to the multiple transmitters used in DTS within the areas that the DTS transmitters are authorized to serve;
  • to maintain protections against “cherry-picking” established in the interim guidelines. Licensees using DTS technology would have to provide, at a minimum, essentially the same level of service they would use with their single-transmitter facilities;
  • to apply the existing DTV rules for effective radiated power, antenna height and emission mask;
  • to permit Class A TV licensees to use DTS technologies to operate a single frequency network of a group of commonly owned digital Class A stations.

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