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 has an open proceeding pending to allow AM stations to use FM translators.  As we have written, while this proceeding continues, the Commission is allowing AM stations to rebroadcast their signals on FM translators on under Special Temporary Authority.  In a case decided today, the FCC made clear that this is only

The Digital Television conversion has allowed the FCC to reclaim significant portions of the TV spectrum for wireless and public safety uses – television channels above 51 will no longer be used for broadcast TV at the end of the analog to digital transition.  But, as part of the FCC’s Diversity proceeding (see our post here), a proposal dealing with the other end of the TV spectrum is being considered – whether to remove Channels 5 and 6 from the television band and instead use these channels for FM radio.  These channels are adjacent to the lower end of the FM band.  Because of this adjacency, the existence of TV Channel 6 in a market can limit the use of the lowest end of the FM band (used for Noncommercial Educational stations) to avoid interference to the TV station.  Similarly, Channel 6’s audio can be heard on many FM radio receivers, a fact that has recently been used by some LPTV operators to use their stations to deliver an audio service that can be received by FM radios (see our post on this subject).  In comments filed in the Diversity proceeding, parties have taken positions all across the spectrum – from television operators who have opposed using the channel for anything but television, to those suggesting that the channels be entirely cleared of television users and turned into a digital radio service.  Proposals also suggest using the band for LPFM operations, and even for clearing the AM band by assigning AM operators to this band to commence new digital operations.

In comments that our firm submitted on behalf of a group of noncommercial FM radio licensees who also rebroadcast their signals on a number of FM translator stations, we suggested that Channel 6 could provide a home for LPFM operations, instead of trying to squeeze those stations into the existing FM band.  There are currently proposals to squeeze more LPFM stations into the FM band by supplanting some FM translators (see our summary of some of those proposals here).  In these comments in the Diversity proceeding, we pointed out that, as there are currently radios on the market that receive 87.9, 87.7 and even 87.5, using these three channels for LPFM service would provide an immediate home to these stations, and far more opportunity for than LPFM would have in the already congested FM band.  These opportunities would exist even in most of the largest radio markets in the country, except in the handful of markets where a Channel 6 television station will continue to operate after the digital transition.  By adopting this proposal, the service that would be provided by FM translators would not be threatened. 


Continue Reading What to Do With TV Channels 5 and 6 – Proposals to Turn Them Over to Radio Services

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

In November, the FCC adopted an Order limiting to 10 the number of FM translators from the 2003 translator filing window that a single applicant could pursue.  This Order was adopted by the Commission at the urging of LPFM advocates who believed that the large number of FM translator applications filed in 2003 foreclosed some opportunities for new low power FM stations (see our description of the Order here).  Last week, the FCC released a Public Notice telling translator applicants to choose which 10 applications that they will continue to prosecute.  Applicants have until April 3 to make that choice and notify the Commission of their choice.  If no choice is made by that date, the FCC will continue to process the first 10 applications that were on file, dismissing any remaining applications by that applicant.

The Commission is expecting to then continue to process the remaining applications, opening a settlement window after the dismissal process is complete so that the remaining applicants can sort out possible engineering solutions or other settlements that would resolve conflicts between remaining mutually exclusive applications.  However, there are a number of Petitions for Reconsideration that were filed against the Order establishing the 10 application limit (including one filed by our firm on behalf of a number of clients).  We’ll see if the Commission takes any action on the Reconsideration petitions (and an accompanying Petition for Stay of the selection deadline) or if the Commission marches on and continues to process these applications.  For now, applicants should be ready to make their selections on or before April 3.


Continue Reading Deadline for FM Translator Applicants To Select 10 Applications to Continue to Prosecute

In an unusually contentious FCC meeting, the FCC adopted rules that promote Low Power FM ("LPFM") stations seemingly to the detriment of FM translators and improvements in the facilities of full-power FM stations.  While no formal text of the decision has yet been released, the Commission did release a Public Notice summarizing its action.  However, given the lack of detail contained in the Notice as to some of the decisions – including capping at 10 the number of translator applications from the 2003 FM translator window that one entity can continue to process and the adoption of an interim policy that would preclude the processing of full-power FM applications that created interference that could not be resolved to an existing LPFM station – it appears that the Press Release was written before these final details were determined.  And given that the two Republican Commissioners dissented from aspects of this order supported by their Chairman (and also dissented on certain cable items considered later in the meeting), one wonders about the process that resulted in the Republican chairman of the FCC voting with the two Democratic Commissioners on an item that in many respects favors LPFM stations to the detriment of existing broadcast operators.

In any event, specific decisions mentioned in today’s meeting include:

  • Treating changes in the Board of Directors of an LPFM station as minor ownership changes that  can be quickly approved by the FCC
  • Allowing the sale of LPFM stations from one non-profit entity to another
  • Tightening rules requiring local programming on these stations
  • Maintaining requirements that LPFM stations must be locally owned, and limiting groups to ownership of only one station
  • Limiting applicants in the 2003 FM translator window to processing only 10 pending applications each, and requiring that they decide which 10 applications to prosecute before any settlement window opens (the two Republican Commissioners favored allowing applicants to continue to process up to 50 applications)
  • Adopting an interim policy requiring that full-power FM stations that are improving their facilities in such a way that their improvement would interfere with an LPFM station to work with the LPFM to find a way to eliminate or minimize the interference.  If no resolution could be found, the full-power station’s application would not be processed (which we have expressed concerns about before)
  • Urging that Congress repeal the ban on the FCC making any changes that would eliminate protections for full power stations from third-adjacent channel interference from LPFMs


Continue Reading FCC Meeting Adopts Rules Favoring LPFM, Restricting Translator Applications, and Possibly Impeding Full Service FM Station Upgrades