On Monday, the President signed into law a bill adjusting the reimbursement dates of the Low Power Television grant program by which LPTV and TV translator stations can seek a $1,000 grant in order to ensure that they are able to continue to receive and rebroadcast the signals of primary full-power television stations once the full-power stations complete the transition to digital television.   In late 2007, the government announced the start of the LPTV Digital-to-Analog grant program designed to help translators and low power television stations continue their analog broadcasts after the February 17, 2009 conversion of full-power television stations to DTV.  Specifically, the LPTV Digital-to-Analog Conversion grant program will provide funds to eligible translators and LPTV stations that need to purchase a digital-to-analog converter box in order to convert the incoming signal of a full-power DTV station to analog format for retransmission on the analog LPTV station.  The program has been funded with a total of $8 million, which is available in $1,000 grants to eligible LPTV stations.  As a result of the recent change, funds granted through the LPTV Digital-to-Analog grant program will available beginning in fiscal year 2009 (Oct. 1, 2008 – Sept. 30, 2009), rather than in fiscal year 2011.  In addition, the recent bill also extends the availability of funding through fiscal year 2012.

Any low-power television broadcast station, Class A television station, television translator station, or television booster station that meets the following three criteria may apply for the grant to defray the cost of the digital-to-analog converter box:

  1. It is itself broadcasting exclusively in analog format;
  2. It has not purchased a digital-to-analog conversion device prior to February 8, 2006; and
  3. It is (or will be) re-transmitting the off-air digital signal of a full-power DTV station.

Applications for this grant program are being accepted until February 17, 2009.  Priority compensation will be given to eligible LPTV stations licensed to 501(c) non-profit entities or LPTV stations serving a rural area of fewer than 10,000 viewers.  Thus, priority is given to stations owned by translator associations and others that might not otherwise be able to afford the costs of converting the signals that they receive from analog to digital, and which might, without the grants, go off the air.  More information on how to apply for such grants is available on the NTIA’s website here.   

We have previously written about the unique concerns about the DTV transition for LPTV and TV translators.  In particular, many have expressed concerns that non-profit translator associations and other community groups that are the licensees of rural translators which bring over-the-air television service to isolated communities – particularly those in the West – may not be ready for the DTV transition.  Many of these associations, funded either by local governments or voluntary contributions, are strapped for funds to even pay the electricity bills to keep the translators in operation.  Having these funds from the NTIA available to buy the equipment necessary to down-convert the DTV signal of a full-power station may be crucial to continuing television operations in these communities.  Full-power television operators whose signals are retransmitted by these rural translators should take the initiative to alert these rural organizations about the availability of these grants, so that they are not otherwise overlooked by the persons responsible for the translators – people who very well may not be reading the trade press or other sources of publicity about the availability of these funds.

In addition, wholly apart from the grant program discussed above, which merely ensures that analog LPTV stations will be able to continue to receive and convert the digital signal of a DTV primary station, the government also has plans for assisting LPTV stations to themselves convert to digital operations.  Under this program, grants will be provided to assist LPTV stations and translators to buy the equipment to themselves convert to digital operations.  As these stations do not need to convert to digital by the February 2009 deadline that applies to full-power stations, the delay in rolling out these funds may not be crucial, especially to rural translators outside the service area of full-power stations.  In these isolated areas, as viewers will not need to have digital receivers to watch local full-power stations, so they can continue with their current analog televisions until the local translators are converted.  In larger markets, where full-power stations exist, viewers who buy over-the-air digital receivers may lose the ability to watch LPTV stations or TV translators who do not operate in digital after the February 2009 deadline, so these conversion funds may come only after-the-fact.  Details about that program will be forthcoming from NTIA, hopefully later this year.