In recent weeks, Low Power Television stations have been the center of attention in Washington in connection with the Digital television transition. While all full-power television stations are set to convert to digital operations less than a year from now, ceasing analog operations at the end of the day on February 17, 2009, there is no specific deadline for LPTV stations to convert to digital. As the NTIA rolls out its coupon program for the purchase of converter boxes that will take digital signals of over-the-air television stations and convert them to analog for those who do not have digital television receivers (see our summary here), LPTV advocates noted that many converters do not pass through analog signals. Thus, once a television is hooked up to a converter box, that television will not be able to pick up stations broadcasting in analog – so many unconverted LPTV stations after the conversion date will be denied access to television receivers.
Suggestions have been made that the converter boxes be reconfigured to pass through analog – unlikely as many of the boxes have already been manufactured and are on their way to stores (note that some converters do pass through analog signals, but a consumer needs to look for those boxes). LPTV advocates have also asked for some form of cable must-carry during the transition process – a proposal sure to be opposed by cable system operators.
The deadline for LPTV conversion is also in question. A number of proposals have been made to allow these stations to keep operating in analog through 2012, as Federal funds to assist them in the digital conversion may be available, but not until 2010. Of course, by then most viewers will have been watching digital television for years, so many LPTV stations may have made the conversion voluntarily well before that date to stay in tune with the viewers.
The final issue that we’ll be seeing more of is the classification of more LPTV stations as Class A TV stations. LPTV stations are generally secondary stations, which can be knocked off the air when a new full-power station starts broadcasting or when one improves its facilities in such a way so as to create interference to the LPTV. A Class A station is not secondary, but instead must be protected by new stations or the increases in power of full-power stations. Class A stations were created in a one-time window years ago, by demonstrating that they originated local programming and otherwise observed all of the rules followed by full-power television stations. The Commission has discussed the possibility of allowing more stations to qualify as Class A stations, which will become more important as the freeze on modifications to full-power stations and on requests for the allotment of new full-power TV channels expires later this year once the final details of the digital transition have been set.
Watch for all of these issues to be addressed in the near future, as the final digital transition details are set.