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.   


Continue Reading Dates for Reimbursement Under the LPTV Digital-to-Analog Grant Program Revised

I recently attended the convention of the Montana Broadcasters Association, and just a few weeks before that I had been at an event sponsored by the Washington State Association of Broadcasters.  Talking with small market TV Broadcasters in those states, an issue that does not affect major television markets but which complicates the digital transition has become clear.  In smaller markets in many states, particularly in some of the western states where there are multiple geographically dispersed cities in many television markets, there is at least one network affiliate in many cities that is either an LPTV or TV translator station.   As we’ve written before, LPTV and translator stations are not required to convert to digital by the February 2009 digital conversion deadline.  Instead, these stations can continue to operate in analog until an as yet unspecified date in the future.  While these stations are allowed to convert to digital, many do not have the resources to do so.  Thus, many of these stations will continue to broadcast in analog after the February 18 transition deadline.  What makes the issue particularly problematic is that most  DTV converters do not allow the "pass through" of analog programming, i.e. once they are hooked up, television sets only receive digital signals and analog signals are effectively blocked.  This presents the potential of marketplace confusion for those viewers who do not receive their signals from cable or satellite, as they will be getting conflicting messages – being told to get a digital converter to pick up the full-power stations in a market as they convert to digital, but if the consumer buys the wrong converter box, they will not be able to receive other LPTV and translator stations in the same market.

The problem has been exaggerated as converter boxes with analog pass through have been delayed in reaching the marketplace.  When I bought converter boxes in Washington, DC early last month, neither of the two major electronics retailers had the converter boxes with analog pass-through available.  A well-reviewed box from EchoStar was supposed to hit stores last month, but it is in short supply.  I can find it on-line only at the Dish Network’s (owned by EchoStar) own website.  Thus, for households who buy and connect most of the available digital converter boxes, suddenly their analog LPTV stations are gone.  In some of these smaller Western markets, that may mean the loss of one or more local network affiliates.


Continue Reading The Digital Transition End Game in Smaller Markets – The Problem with LPTV

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

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration ("NTIA") now has made available the coupons for consumers to use to buy converter boxes that will allow analog television sets to pick up the digital signals of television stations.  We have written about the NTIA program before, here.  Digital signals are now available in most markets, and these signals will be the only signals available from full power television stations after the February 17, 2009 digital conversion deadline. The coupons, valued at $40, will be available until they run out (and, by most estimates, Congress has not appropriated enough money for every household to get coupons).  They are available to any household regardless of financial need, but can be used only to buy certain very simple converter boxes to convert over-the-air digital transmissions to analog so that the digital programs can be seen on analog television sets that are not hooked up to cable or satellite (cable and satellite systems will provide signals that will not need the use of these boxes).  The NTIA has a very helpful website, here, to explain the coupon program.  The applications for the coupons are available here

Any household can apply for up to two coupons.  Coupons cannot be aggregated to buy a single box – so the multiple coupons will only be of use to households with more than one set that is not connected to cable or satellite.  As set forth on the NTIA site, the boxes are expected to cost between $50 and $70, so the coupon will not completely cover the cost of the box.  What is perhaps most interesting is that, even though the applications for the coupons can be filed now, the coupons will not be sent out for another month or two, as there are no boxes yet available in local retail outlets.


Continue Reading Coupons For Converter Boxes Now Available From NTIA, So That Consumers Can Watch Digital Television on Analog Sets

On the last day of 2007, the FCC released a 108 page order detailing its rules for the final stages of the transition of US full power television stations from analog to digital, a transition that is to be completed in less than 14 months.  The Third Periodic Review, as the order is titled, covers in detail the timing of required construction of the final facilities for each full power television station, as well as various details on other transition issues.  While we will prepare a more detailed summary of the order, some of the more significant issues that the Commission addressed include the following:

  • Established firm construction deadlines for final digital facilities for television stations which have not yet constructed those facilities. The deadlines are:
    • February 17, 2009 for stations moving to a new digital channel, or to their analog channel, for their ultimate digital operations
    • May 18, 2008 for stations that will remain on their current digital channel and which already hold a construction permit for their digital operations
    • August 18, 2008 for stations that will remain on their current digital channel but which do not have a construction permit for their ultimate facilities
  • Extensions of these deadlines will be permitted only upon a showing that the circumstances preventing construction were unexpected or beyond the control of the licensee, including zoning and financial inability – though these standards were made more limited than those that previously applied.  Any extension beyond February 17, 2009 will be granted only if it meets the Commission’s tolling standards, e.g. there is litigation which must be resolved before the construction can begin or an Act of God that temporarily precludes construction.
  • By February 18, 2008, each television station licensee must file a new form with the FCC, Form 387, detailing the status of construction of the digital facilities of the station, and must update the information periodically if they have not yet completed their DTV construction.
  • The Commission has agreed to allow stations to receive Special Temporary Authority to operate with limited facilities, and to even cease analog broadcasting before the end of the transition or for periods of up to 30 days, if necessary to facilitate their ultimate construction, under certain specific guidelines and after prior notification that must be given to viewers. 
  • The current freeze on applications for increased facilities will be lifted after August 18, 2008
  • The Commission adopted new interference standards for applications for improvement in digital stations
  • Any digital station, whether operating as a licensee or permittee, must pay fees for any ancillary or supplementary services that they provide with their digital spectrum
  • Provided a format for the station identification that must be used when a digital station uses a secondary channel to rebroadcast another station, such as a low power television station.


Continue Reading FCC Releases Order Addressing the Process for the Final Transition to Digital Television

Two weeks ago, we wrote about the FCC’s proposal for the auction of the 700 MHz band – the portions of the spectrum that will be reclaimed from television operators after the digital transition.  These channels will be used to provide some form of wireless broadband service. The Commission made its decision on the use of this spectrum last week, reserving at least some of the spectrum for “open access” uses – where the provider will not be able to restrict the devices that can access the network, nor limit or block services that run on the network, as long as the devices and services do not cause damage to the network.  In theory, this will encourage the creation of numerous new devices and services to capitalize on the open wireless network being provided.  While the Commission has not released the full test of this decision yet, a memo from our firm, describing some of the decisions announced at the FCC open meeting and in the subsequent public notice, can be found here.

Whether the provisions that the Commission adopted will be sufficient to entice some of the Internet “content” companies, like Google, to bid, remains to be seen. But this “beachfront spectrum” will no doubt introduce some exciting new uses as it begins to come into operation in the next few years – providing more people more wireless access to mobile content – and more competition to those traditional wireless industries that many consumers have forgotten are both wireless and mobile – those provided by traditional broadcasters. 


Continue Reading 700 MHz Reclaimed TV Spectrum Auction Rules Adopted – A Preview

As we have written, here and here, the FCC recently commenced a proceeding to determine if it should adopt rules to require analog cable systems to carry digital television stations after the digital television conversion is complete in 2009.  The proceeding is also to determine what a cable system must do to ensure that there is