The National Association of Broadcasters and APTS (America’s Public Television Stations – the associations of public television stations) have filed a Petition for Rulemaking seeking to expand the area in which licensees can locate distributed transmission system transmitters (also known as single frequency networks), in connection with ATSC 3.0 operations. With the new ATSC 3.0 transmission system soon to be rolled out commercially by some TV stations, multiple transmitters on the same frequency can amplify a station’s signal, rather than causing destructive interference to it. Thus, rather than operating with single big transmitter in the center of a station’s service area, with signal strength decreasing as one moves away from that transmitter, a station could instead construct multiple transmitter sites throughout its service area, providing more uniform coverage and filling in what might otherwise be service gaps within its market in areas blocked by terrain obstructions, or otherwise remote, from the station’s main transmitter site.  NAB and APTS claim that current rules need to be amended to allow stations to best take advantage of the potential for DTS technology.

Under the current rules, TV stations cannot use a distributed transmission site to extend their signals beyond the interference-free contour of the full-power station. Under their proposal, APTS and NAB suggest that these distributed transmission sites could be located anywhere in the market as long as they do not extend the interference contour of the station – for UHF stations, the DTS transmitter’s 36 dBu would not be able to exceed the 36 dBu of the reference station.   The proponents of this idea suggest that it would allow stations to improve service to remote portions of their service areas.

The FCC has put this petition for rulemaking out for public comment. Comments are due by November 12, and reply comments are due by November 27, 2019. This is just a request for preliminary comments as to whether or not the FCC should proceed on this proposal. After receiving comments, the FCC will review them and if they conclude that the proposal has merit and support, the FCC will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking additional comments on a more specific FCC proposal for amending the rules. If you are interested in the NAB/APTS proposal, send in your comments by the November deadline.