The FCC today released a Public Notice announcing that they are suspending the September digital conversion deadline for LPTV stations. Given the upcoming incentive auction, it seems clear that it makes no sense to force an LPTV station to go digital, when it could be knocked off the air or forced to change channels a
Late last week, the FCC advanced a number of proposals on how it will deal with LPTV stations and TV translators after the incentive auction and the repacking of the TV spectrum into whatever channels are left after part of the TV band is repurposed for wireless uses. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking raises a number of issues, including the potential for delaying the mandatory digital transition for LPTV stations and translators that continue to operate in analog. The FCC also suggested a post-auction window for LPTV and translator stations to file for displacement channels if there current operations are no longer possible after the repacking of the TV band. It also addressed the potential for LPTVs on Channel 6 being able to transmit, post-digital transition, an analog audio channel so that “Franken FMs” (“radio stations” received on FM radio receivers on 87.7 that really are the audio portion of the LPTV’s programming), can continue.
Comments on these proposals will be due 30 days after publication of the Notice in the Federal Register, with reply comments 15 days thereafter. Presumably, as the incentive auction is fast approaching, as is the current deadline for mandatory September 1, 2015 digital conversion of these stations (which we wrote about here when the deadline was adopted), the FCC will act quickly on the proposals that have been made. So just what are the proposals on which the FCC is asking for comment?…
Continue Reading FCC Proposals for Preserving LPTV and TV Translator Service after the Incentive Auction, Plus Proposals for Preservation of the Franken FM and an End to Analog Tuner Requirements
The FCC’s Media Bureau yesterday released a Public Notice asking for comment on a proposal to extend the construction deadline until September 1, 2015 for any construction permit for a digital LPTV station or a TV translator that will expire before that date. September 1, 2015 is the deadline for all TV translators and…
A controversy has bubbled up in connection with the FCC proceeding to set the date by which Low Power Television stations will be required to convert to digital operations. While the analog operations of full-power TV stations were mandatorily terminated in 2009, Low Power television stations and TV translators have not yet faced any end date for their analog operations – though the FCC recently suggested that the final date for analog broadcasting by these stations be set – perhaps as soon as next year. In comments filed in the proceeding to set the end date, the question of when to terminate analog broadcasting became tangled in another issue – whether Channel 6 LPTV stations should be allowed to continue to be used to broadcast FM programming. NPR suggested that the practice be terminated now, while Channel 6 licensees argued that this use was perfectly permissible under FCC rules, and that it provides a public interest benefit that should be preserved.
Channel 6 is immediately adjacent to the FM band. Analog television stations used an audio transmission standard that was very similar to that used by FM stations, and the audio from analog Channel 6 stations could be picked up by FM radio receivers. In many major television markets across the country, LPTV operators have taken their stations, optimized the audio for FM reception, and started broadcasts intended to be treated like radio stations – programming music or talk like a radio station, with the video programming being secondary to the audio output. Some have called these "Franken FMs", and many listeners don’t even realize that they are listening to a station licensed for video operation – just assuming that radio on 87.7 or 87.9 is a normal extension of the FM band. But this proceeding to end analog television broadcasting has brought the issue to the forefront.
On Friday, the Commission released a Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making (FNPRM) seeking input on completing the transition of all low power television stations (LPTV) and TV translator stations to digital operations. Driven by the transition of all full power TV stations last year and the guidance from the National Broadband Plan, which recommended setting a deadline of 2015 for the transition of LPTVs to digital in order to increase efficiency in the TV bands and assist in the reallocation of those bands, the Commission’s rulemaking turns to the remaining analog television operations in the spectrum, i.e. LPTV and TV translator stations. The Commission, having noted a significant increase in the past year of LPTV stations obtaining authority for, and actually switching to, DTV operations, concludes that "low power television stations should now begin to focus their time and resources on developing and implementing a digital conversion plan."
In response to the main question of "when?", the Commission suggests a date in 2012 as the hard date by which all LPTVs and TV translators would have to complete the construction of digital facilities and cease analog operations. While a specific date in 2012 is not offered, the Commission believes that three years after the June 12, 2009 full power transition should be a sufficient time period for completing the transition. And of course, given that it is now September 2010, that really means that LPTV stations would have between 15 and 27 months from today to complete the transition. The FNPRM does seek comment on alternative time frames or transition mechanisms, but notes that an adoption of an earlier transition date in 2012 might adversely impact some LPTV stations, which could "transition to digital only to find that their digital channel is no longer available as a result of the spectrum reallocation that is one of the recommendations in the Broadband Plan." Such stations would then be forced to transition a second time. Given that the Commission has not yet actually commenced a proceeding to implement the spectrum reallocation recommended in the Broadband Plan, this comment is a bit troubling. Clearly, if the Commission is actually going to reallocate the spectrum as suggested in the National Broadband Plan, it should do so first before it mandates a DTV transition for LPTVs. Or at the very least, it shouldn’t mandate such a transition until it can ensure that LPTV stations are transitioning to digital on a channel that won’t subsequently be reclaimed and re-purposed for a competing wireless broadband operation. In acknowledgment of this, the FNPRM seeks comment on whether the analog termination date should be by the end of 2015 or after the "recommended reallocation of spectrum from the broadcast TV bands".
Last week, the FCC’s Media Bureau granted waivers of the requirement that television tuners be capable of receiving both analog and digital television transmissions, but only with respect to tuners meant for mobile use. The FCC justified the waivers of the All Channel Receiver Act given the technological constraints that an analog reception chip would put on mobile receivers meant for the reception of the Mobile/Handheld Digital Television Standard (A/153) signals. This signal is being tested now to allow television broadcasters to provide mobile programming in addition to their current over-the-air broadcast signals – a service planned for commercial roll out at the end of the year. These waivers, granted in response to requests by Dell and LG Electronics, not only signal the seriousness with which this new service is being regarded, but also provide evidence of the coming end of analog television, now used solely by LPTV stations.
In considering the waiver, the Commission recognized that the only television stations that would be affected by the lack of an analog tuner were LPTV stations, and no such stations opposed the waiver request. As one of the waiver proponents noted, analog television signals were not meant for mobile reception, and thus the lack of such a receiver in a mobile device was no big loss. Moreover, the FCC noted that the digital conversion of LPTV stations has already begun, in that it no longer accepts applications for new analog LPTV stations. The Commission reiterated that it will soon set a date for the final conversion of the last analog LPTV stations to digital. Thus, the failure to receive analog would be, at most, a temporary issue.
The FCC today released its National Broadband Plan to Congress, and in it spelled out its suggestions for the future of television. Facilitating the deployment of ubiquitous, dependable wireless broadband service is identified as a fundamental goal of the Commission’s proposals. The authors of the Commission’s report have viewed the problems experienced by some wireless broadband providers in major markets as indicative of a coming shortage in wireless capacity. Specifically, the Commission is concerned that as more and more applications for wireless broadband are deployed, the capacity of existing wireless spectrum will be exhausted, foreclosing opportunities presented by wireless broadband. And, as detailed below, the Commission sees the television spectrum as providing a significant part of the answer to that perceived spectrum shortfall.
The opportunities for broadband are many, in the view of the authors of the study. The Commission sees growing demand and future applications for wireless broadband not just in the areas of entertainment and commercial applications, but also in education, health, energy conservation, civic involvement, and public safety, among others. However, the Commission fears that sufficient spectrum will not be available to meet all of these needs.
Come the New Year, we all engage in speculation about what’s ahead in our chosen fields, so it’s time for us to look into our crystal ball to try to discern what Washington may have in store for broadcasters in 2009. With each new year, a new set of regulatory issues face the broadcaster from the powers-that-be in Washington. But this year, with a new Presidential administration, new chairs of the Congressional committees that regulate broadcasters, and with a new FCC on the way, the potential regulatory challenges may cause the broadcaster to look at the new year with more trepidation than usual. In a year when the digital television transition finally becomes a reality, and with a troubled economy and no election or Olympic dollars to ease the downturn, who wants to deal with new regulatory obstacles? Yet, there are potential changes that could affect virtually all phases of the broadcast operations for both radio and television stations – technical, programming, sales, and even the use of music – all of which may have a direct impact on a station’s bottom line that can’t be ignored.
With the digital conversion, one would think that television broadcasters have all the technical issues that they need for 2009. But the FCC’s recent adoption of its “White Spaces” order, authorizing the operation of unlicensed wireless devices on the TV channels, insures that there will be other issues to watch. The White Spaces decision will likely be appealed. While the appeal is going on, the FCC will have to work on the details of the order’s implementation, including approving operators of the database that is supposed to list all the stations that the new wireless devices will have to protect, as well as “type accepting” the devices themselves, essentially certifying that the devices can do what their backers claim – knowing where they are through the use of geolocation technology, “sniffing” out signals to protect, and communicating with the database to avoid interference with local television, land mobile radio, and wireless microphone signals.