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

The FCC has wasted no time in pressing ahead with the discussion of whether the spectrum currently used by local broadcast television stations is being put to the greatest use and whether it should be "re-purposed" for the so-called broadband effort.  This afternoon, the FCC issued a Public Notice soliciting comments by December 21st

By December 1, 2009, all commercial and noncommercial digital television (DTV) stations must electronically file a FCC Form 317 with the Commission reporting on whether the station has provided any ancillary and supplementary services over their digital spectrum during the twelve-month period ending on September 30, 2009.

Under the Commission’s Rules, in addition to providing free over-the-air broadcast television, DTV stations are permitted to offer services of any nature, consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity, on an ancillary or supplementary basis.  Some examples of the kinds of services that may be provided include computer software distribution, data transmissions, teletext, interactive materials, aural messages, paging services, audio signals, and subscription video.

All DTV stations — regardless of whether the station holds a DTV license or is operating pursuant to Special Temporary Authority (STA), program test authority (PTA), or some other authority — must file a Form 317 reporting whether or not it provided such services and whether it generated any income from such services. If the station did provide such ancillary services, then the FCC wants to know about it. More importantly, if the station generated revenue from the provision of those services, then the FCC wants its 5% cut of the gross revenues derived from such service.  The Form 317 is very brief, soliciting information about the license and the types of services provided, if any, and must be filed electronically through the CDBS filing system.


Continue Reading DTV Station Reminder: FCC Form 317 Reporting of Ancillary Services Due Dec. 1st

This week, an agreement by Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the ranking minority member on the Senate Commerce Committee, to an extension of the DTV transition deadline from February 17 until June 12, was announced.  The delay has been requested so that issues about the distribution of the $40 government coupons to consumers to ease their purchase of converters to allow analog TVs to pick up digital signals so that they will continue to work after the transition date can be resolved; and so that there can be more targeted information about the transition delivered to groups that many feel may not have received the message about the transition. But Congressional Republicans have thus far blocked attempts by the Obama administration to delay the transition, so this agreement by Senator Hutchinson is viewed as a sign that the extension may very well be approved in the near term.  As the transition deadline is only weeks away, if Congress is going to act, it needs to do so immediately, or the effect of any delay will be negligible as the transition will have, for all practical purposes, already occurred.

Most broadcast stations have made plans for the transition – ordering the equipment, scheduling tower crews, coordinating the changes in frequencies with other stations in the same region that may be necessary to accommodate the digital operations.  In some cases, stations have already ceasing their analog broadcasting so that the new equipment necessary to accomplish the transition can be installed, or because these stations will be operating digitally on their analog frequency and have had to allow a tower crew or other engineering support to conduct the work necessary to allow the digital operations on the final channel to occur before the February deadline dates.  Given the limited number of such crews, not all of these final changes could happen on a single date, so stations have been changing to all digital operations now as the final date approaches.  Without Congressional action very soon, the transition will have, for the most part, already occurred.


Continue Reading Senator Hutchison Announces Compromise on DTV Transition Delay Until June 12 – Why Congress Needs to Act Soon

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced that he will be leaving the Commission on Tuesday as the new President is inaugurated, and thus will not be present at the FCC to set any last minute policy for the DTV transition.  In fact, if Martin had decided to stay for the end of the transition, he might well have had to stick around for a while, as there are bills making their way through Congress to delay the February 17 deadline for the transition to digital television.  Senator Rockefeller has introduced a bill that would extend the deadline to June 12, which Senate Republicans blocked last week, though it will reportedly be reintroduced this week.  At the same time, the three remaining Commissioners have all released letters that indicate that there are significant transition problems that need to be resolved before the transition deadline.  While there are those who wonder if the delay will really solve the problems that may exist – the movement is in the direction of a delay.

The letters from the Commissioners are most interesting.  First came a letter from Commissioner McDowell, not directed to Congress, but instead to Chairman Martin, publicly asking for information about the FCC’s DTV phone bank to answer questions from consumers about the transition.  According to the McDowell letter, he was unable to get information about the status of upgrades to the system to handle the expected influx of calls at the end of the transition.  McDowell also complained about calls that were not answered at all, or which had long wait times, when consumers called – wait times that often resulted in connections with a voicemail system.  And he raised questions about the failure of the phonebank to be open on weekends.  It has now been announced that IBM has been hired to man the phonebank, perhaps answering some of the questions Commissioner McDowell raised in his letter.


Continue Reading Kevin Martin Departs as Congress Looks at June 12 DTV Transition Deadline – While Remaining Commissioners Write Letters About Transition Problems

The FCC this week released the details of its "White Spaces" decision, authorizing the use of both fixed and mobile unlicensed devices within the television spectrum.  In theory, these devices are supposed to be able to sense the existence of television signals so that they can operate on other frequencies and avoid creating interference.  However, as an extra safety measure, the FCC has also required that these devices connect at least once a day with a database of all other protected users of the television spectrum and, by used of geo-location technology, determine what other users are in the area where the "TVBD" (television band device) is being used and operate on frequencies which protect those other users.  Our firm has prepared a memo outlining the full decision.  The Davis Wright Tremaine memo can be found here.  When one reviews the full text of the FCC decision, it becomes pretty clear that we should not look for such devices anytime soon.

While the Commission’s order actually discussed in some detail the question of whether these devices should be permitted to operate before the end of the digital television conversion in February 2009, given the issues that still need to be resolved, this discussion really appears to be an academic one.  First, devices that meet all of the FCC requirements have to be designed and built, and type-accepted by the FCC labs.  In a recent article by Shelly Palmer in his well regarded blog on television issues, he suggests that many engineers are convinced that these devices simply will not work.  When one reviews the FCC requirements, one can see why that might be the case.


Continue Reading Details of White Spaces Decision Released – Don’t Look for Them Soon as There is Lots to Do Before Any Devices Will Be Introduced

At the FCC meeting held on Election Day, the Commission approved the operation of "white spaces" devices in the TV spectrum.  These would be mobile, unlicensed devices that would operate on TV channels that are not used in a particular location.  Many Internet users have hailed the expansion of wireless Internet opportunities that they believe that this decision will bring.  While the FCC promised that these devices would protect television operations and other current uses of the TV Band, many other groups have reacted to the decision far more skeptically.  All in all, we have probably not heard the end of this debate.

The full text of the FCC Order has not yet been released but, from the Public Notice summarizing the action (which came late in the day, after a several hour delay in the start of the FCC meeting), the FCC appears to have made some concessions to the broadcasters who were objecting that the tests of the white spaces devices were not able to adequately sense the presence of television signals in a way that would protect those stations.  So, to protect television signals, the FCC ordered that, in addition to sensing the existence of television signals, the white spaces devices would also have to have geo-location abilities, which would check the location of the device and compare it to a database of television stations and prevent the device from operating on channels that the database shows to be occupied.  Even with this capacity, organizations representing television stations do not believe that this compromise is sufficient to protect those stations.


Continue Reading FCC Approves White Spaces Devices in TV Band – While Some Hail a Boon to Wireless Internet, Others Say Not So Fast

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

There are no items on the agenda for next week’s FCC meeting from the Media Bureau, so one might think that the "broadcast" community could ignore this meeting.  However, there is one matter that will be considered that may well have an effect on the media landscape for the foreseeable future.  That is the adoption of service rules for the 700 MHz spectrum – the remaining portion of the spectrum to be reclaimed from television broadcasters after the digital transition.  Part of that spectrum has already been reclaimed and is beginning to be used by companies such as Qualcomm offering digital multimedia services such as the MediaFLO system, about which we have written before.  The remaining portion of the spectrum that will be auctioned by the Commission by January 2008 and has the potential to provide significant high-speed digital wireless services to the public.   However, anyone reading the communications press would realize that there is a major controversy over how that service will be provided.

The argument is over whether service will be provided on the new spectrum in an open manner – in essence a wireless high speed connection to the Internet where any service can get direct access to the consumer – or whether it will function more like the current systems run by the existing wireless carriers, where the carriers will be able to control the content that will be delivered to the consumer.  This is, by no means an easy decision, and it is currently being debated in Congress and at the FCC.


Continue Reading The 700 Mhz Controversy – Fighting Over the Reclaimed TV Spectrum