Last week, the FCC introduced a new service to fill in gaps in the service of a digital television station – permitting television stations to immediately apply for Special Temporary Authority to construct digital translators. Translators rebroadcast the signal of a full-power station, but operate on a channel different than the main station they retransmit. The Commission has already authorized stations to operate on-channel low-power facilities in the Distributed Transmission Service (DTS) proceeding, about which we wrote here. The digital translators, however, will only be authorized to serve areas that had received analog service from the television station but which will lose that service when the station goes fully digital, thus raising questions as to how much use these stations will really be. In a Public Notice released today, providing filing information for these translators, the Commission states that the translators can only serve this loss area. While the authorization of this Digital Low Power Television Translator service will begin immediately on an STA basis, the Commission’s order came out only in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which could ultimately be rejected by the Commission after public comments are submitted.
The Commission seeks comments on a number of proposals made in this proceeding, including the following:
- The new translators would operate on Channels 2-59, with those operations on channels 53-59 being authorized only where the applicant can show that there is no other channel on which a translator can operate
- These translators will be given application priority over all other translator applications except those for the displacement of an existing translator or LPTV station, which would have co-equal priority
- The translators would be authorized as part of the main station license, would be renewed as part of the main station license, and could not be sold except with the main station.
- The translators will be authorized to fill in the area served by an analog full-power station but lost when the station converts to digital. The Commission seeks comments as to whether even a nominal extension of the coverage area will be permitted (it apparently will not for authorizations initially granted through an STA)
- Applicants receiving an authorization for this service will be given a construction permit – and the Commission asks if that permit should be limited to a period of six months so that service to the public will be initiated quickly.
- The Commission also asks how this service should interact with white spaces devices recently authorized by the Commission (see our summary).
Given the limits on the use of these translators to areas that currently receive an analog signal from a station but will not receive a digital signal from that station, it is questionable how many stations really will have the opportunity to use these stations. The Commission last week released maps of predicted coverage areas for digital station operations, comparing those signals with the station’s current analog operations. Most television UHF stations replicate their analog service in digital. Many analog VHF stations however, show areas of lost service if they are operating on a UHF channel after the transition. Seemingly, these stations will be the most likely to need to use these digital fill-in translator stations.
Television stations should look at their service before and after the transition and, if these translators will benefit their operations, they should consider submitting applications now to provide service after the February 17 digital transition.