Reading the papers and watching the news this weekend, one would think that analog television is a relic of the past – something that we can all soon look back at fondly as a quaint childhood memory, never to be seen again.  Yet all the reports fail to mention that for populations that watch their over-the-air television from TV translators or Low Power TV stations, analog television is still very much a reality, and in some places will be for years until the FCC sets a deadline for the digital conversion of these stations. Many of these stations operate in rural areas or serve minority or other specialized audiences, perhaps explaining the lack of coverage in the mainstream media.  But, given all the publicity that has been accorded to the "completion" of the conversion, some of these populations may well have been confused by the process.  We’ve writtenabout this issue and how it could have created confusion in smaller markets which have service by both full-power and low power TV stations, here.

The transition of LPTV to digital raises a number of issues – including the ability of these stations to deliver radio-type programming when operating on Channel 6.  As we’ve written, LPTV stations on Channel 6 have been used to provide radio services, as Channel 6 is immediately adjacent to the FM band and can be picked up on most radio receivers..  However, when the ultimate transition of LPTV to digital is completed, the ability of these stations to provide a radio-type service will probably disappear, as the audio system used by digital television will not be picked up by analog radio receivers. 


Continue Reading Analog Television – Not Dead Yet – Not All LPTV Stations are Digital

The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Digital Fill-In Translators, to provide television service in areas where a television station’s digital signal does not reach locations that were covered by its analog operations (a proposal we summarized here) was published in the Federal Register today, setting comment dates on this proposal.  Comments are due on January 12, and Replies on January 22.  As the Commission has already published instructions for filing for temporary authority to operate these stations, broadcasters who are interested in the final rules that may be adopted should look to file comments on these matters before the January 12 deadline.  This is another proceeding that is being rushed through the Commission in anticipation of the February 17 end of the digital television transition.

The analog nightlight proceeding is on an even faster track, with comments due on Monday (see our summary of that proceeding here). The Commission has just released a tentative agenda for its January 15 meeting, where the only item it will consider (other than reports from the Commission’s various Bureau Chiefs) will be the analog nightlight proposal.  This is likely to be Chairman Martin’s last meeting as chair of the FCC.  In light of the Congressional mandate to complete this proceeding by January 15, the Commission will have received comments and replies and digested them into a decision – all in the space of  20 days from the release of its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – with the Christmas and New Years holidays intervening!  If anything, this shows two things – that the FCC can move rapidly if it has to, and that the DTV transition is the one and only real priority on the full Commission’s agenda right now. 


Continue Reading TV Digital Transition Rushes On – Comment Date on Proposals for Digital Fill-In Translators Set for January 12 and Analog Nightlight to Be Approved at January 15 Commission Meeting

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).


Continue Reading FCC Proposes New Digital Low Power Fill-In Translators, and Starts Accepting Applications Immediately

Congress recently passed legislation authorizing an analog "nightlight" or lifeline for those left behind after the digital transition.  This law was designed to allow certain full-power stations to remain operating in analog on February 18, with information about the digital transition for those people who otherwise managed to miss the information about that deadline.  This past week, while Santa was making his deliveries, the FCC released its proposals for implementing this authorization.  The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking sets out a list of stations that can take advantage of the authorization automatically, and the process for other stations being able to operate such a service.  In addition, the Notice proposes restrictions on the nightlight operation, the length of service, and miscellaneous other matters.  Given the tight timeframe before implementation on the end date of the digital transition, comments on the FCC’s proposals will be due 5 days after they are published in the Federal Register, and replies 3 days later.

The proposals include the following:

  • Analog operation would be permitted by authorized stations for only 30 days after the end of the digital transition, through the end of the day on March 19, 2009.
  • The nightlight service can only include information about local emergencies, and information about how viewers can get digital television services.  The information about how to get digital services should be in English and Spanish, and accessible to those with disabilities.  No advertising will be permitted.
  • The Commission attached to its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking a list of eligible stations .  Such stations, if they are interested in participating, need to electronically file by February 10 a request for Special Temporary Authority to operate the nightlight .  No filing fee will be required.
  • Stations not listed may still participate by demonstrating how they will protect all digital operations, through lower power, terrain shielding, directional antennas or similar techniques.  Comments showing how they will participate should be filed in the comment period for the NPRM.
  • The nightlight service will not be entitled to mandatory cable carriage.


Continue Reading FCC Proposes Rules for Analog Nightlight – For Those Left Behind After the Digital Television Transition

 As the digital television transition continues to progress, the FCC has been pursuing not only broadcasters who have been slow in building out their digital facilities, but also consumer electronic manufacturers who have not done enough to facilitate the transition. In a letter released this week, Chairman Martin has by letter urged consumer electronics retailers to stock inexpensive converter boxes that will pick up digital signals and allow analog television sets to broadcast those signals, keeping those sets from becoming obsolete. Also, the FCC recently entered into a consent decree agreeing to a fine for Sling Media for not including a digital television tuner in some of its equipment, reminding all consumer electronics manufacturers, including those who install them as an adjunct to their technology, of the need to include such tuners in their equipment.

The issue of the digital converter boxes is an interesting one. When NTIA started issuing coupons to consumers to subsidize their transition to digital, it was hoped that the $40 coupons that consumers would receive would come close to covering the entire cost of the converter box necessary to keep an analog set operational. In fact, in most cases, the boxes have cost more than $40, requiring the consumer to pay at least some of the cost of the box. What has been particularly frustrating has been the announcement that Echostar, the satellite television provider of the Dish Network, had manufactured a highly rated box that would be available at $40, and would also include the ability to “pass through” analog signals – to continue to receive analog as well as digital signals – a particularly important property in markets where there are LPTV or TV translator stations that will continue to operate in analog after the February 17, 2009 deadline for the digital conversion of full-power television stations (see our post here on that issue). However, as the Chairman’s letter makes clear, that box and boxes like it are not available in most consumer electronics stores. Thus, the Commission has urged retailers to stock such devices in these final months before the digital cut-off so that no one is left behind. 


Continue Reading FCC Tackles Equipment Manufacturers for Not Including DTV Tuners in Their Devices

It’s been a week since Wilmington, North Carolina became the first television market in the country to have virtually all of its television stations convert to digital – ceasing their analog operations.  The FCC, NAB and local stations all concentrated great resources in Wilmington in order to ensure that the transition was smooth and, while most observers believe that disruption was minimal, there are some who remain concerned about the results of the Wilmington experiment, and whether it can be replicated in other television markets.  While the FCC ramps up its efforts to promote the digital television transition around the country, one Commissioner has suggested several other steps that should be taken (including leaving an analog lifeline for those people who don’t get the message), and Congress is set to weigh in on the issues over the next two weeks.  All in all, the push is on for the February 17, 2009 transition to digital.

One of the most thought provoking commentaries on the transition comes from Harry Jessell, editor of TV Newsday.  In a commentary published last Friday, Jessell computes that the complaints in Wilmington amounted to about 5% of the television households in that market.  If that pattern was to be repeated in all markets around the country, Jessell computes that there would be about 1.7 million homes that will miss the transition and be without TV service on February 18.  Jessell further figures that this is a best case number, as all of the publicity showered on Wilmington will not be available in the remainder of the country, and there will likely be more technical problems in other markets with more irregular terrain than Wilmington (which is mostly flat coastal plain) and where TV towers are in different locations.  Jessell suggests several steps – including staggered cut-off dates to avoid overloading national DTV hotlines, more education on antenna issues (one of the major issues in Wilmington), and more "soft-tests" (stations ceasing analog operations for limited periods to see if their viewers are ready for the transition). It is a commentary worth reading.


Continue Reading Digital Television Conversion is a Reality in Wilmington NC – Publicity Ramps Up Around the Country While Issues of Readiness are Raised

The Commission this week released an Order exempting certain small cable systems from the requirement that, after the February 2009 digital transition, for a three year period, cable systems carry both an analog version of a broadcast television station’s signal plus the station’s high definition signal.  This dual carriage requirement was imposed so that the

With the Digital Television conversion date only eight and a half months away, the end game is beginning.  The FCC has announced that Wilmington, North Carolina will be a test market for the digital conversion, going all-digital on September 8 (or almost all digital, as the local NPR affiliate is not planning to turn off its analog signal, and one LPTV station will continue to operate in analog).  This will provide the FCC with an opportunity to determine what will really happen when the digital transition occurs in February of next year.  What will the FCC learn from this early test?  In the statement of Commissioner Copps at a recent town hall meeting held in Wilmington to address the digital conversion, some of the issues to be watched were set out.

Essentially, the Commissioner identified four different broad categories of issues that would be considered.  They are:

  • Technical issues – will the DTV signals provide adequate service to their communities?  Will the converter boxes be able to receive the signals with "rabbit ear" antennas, or will there be reception problems
  • Will consumers have received the word about the transition, or are there certain groups that will be particularly hard-hit by the transition, missing out on vital information about that transition?
  • How will various partnerships work?  The Commissioner identifies partnerships between various industry, government and community groups to distribute news about the transition, but there are also partnerships between stations and multi-channel video providers (cable and direct broadcast satellite) that need to be worked out
  • The unknown – what other issues that are not anticipated will arise?

As set forth below, many of these issues have been receiving extensive press coverage in recent weeks.


Continue Reading What Will the FCC Learn from Wilmington – The Beginning of the End of the TV Digital Transition