Last week, the FCC’s Media Bureau granted waivers of the requirement that television tuners be capable of receiving both analog and digital television transmissions, but only with respect to tuners meant for mobile use. The FCC justified the waivers of the All Channel Receiver Act given the technological constraints that an analog reception chip would put on mobile receivers meant for the reception of the Mobile/Handheld Digital Television Standard (A/153) signals. This signal is being tested now to allow television broadcasters to provide mobile programming in addition to their current over-the-air broadcast signals – a service planned for commercial roll out at the end of the year. These waivers, granted in response to requests by Dell and LG Electronics, not only signal the seriousness with which this new service is being regarded, but also provide evidence of the coming end of analog television, now used solely by LPTV stations.
In considering the waiver, the Commission recognized that the only television stations that would be affected by the lack of an analog tuner were LPTV stations, and no such stations opposed the waiver request. As one of the waiver proponents noted, analog television signals were not meant for mobile reception, and thus the lack of such a receiver in a mobile device was no big loss. Moreover, the FCC noted that the digital conversion of LPTV stations has already begun, in that it no longer accepts applications for new analog LPTV stations. The Commission reiterated that it will soon set a date for the final conversion of the last analog LPTV stations to digital. Thus, the failure to receive analog would be, at most, a temporary issue.
The order allows mobile receivers to leave out not only the analog tuner, but also a tuner that is capable of receiving normal over-the-air digital television pictures, as long as their is a clear disclosure to consumers that these tuners are not capable of receiving normal analog or digital television programming. Thus, these will be dedicated devices for the new mobile television service.
One interesting note is that the success of this service will make it more difficult for the Commission to reclaim television spectrum for broadband use. The old VHF channels, still used by some television stations, though much less congested than in analog days, are reportedly not very good for mobile use. Were the Commission to try to take back television spectrum for broadband use, where could they put the TV stations displaced from the reclaimed spectrum, especially if they have successful mobile operations? Thus, the services which this ruling promotes may help to shape the debate about the broadband recapture.