LPTV digital transition

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.


Continue Reading The Battle Over TV Channel 6 and LPTVs Used for FM Radio Broadcasts

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.


Continue Reading FCC Authorizes Mobile DTV Receivers Without Analog Tuners – Further Signals of the End of Analog LPTV, and Raises Questions of Recapture of TV Spectrum for Broadband

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