Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC asked for public comment on a proposal to increase from 100 to 250 watts the maximum power allowed

On September 26, the FCC will hold its next open meeting and, according to a Public Notice released Friday, will consider several issues important to different parts of the broadcast industry. For television broadcasters, there will be concerns about the proposal to do away with the “UHF discount,” which gives UHF stations a 50% discount in determining the number of households they reach when determining an owner’s compliance with the limitation that prevents any one company from owning television stations that reach more than 39% of the US television households. For radio, the FCC will be getting a report on the preparations for the upcoming LPFM window, allowing applications nationwide for new LPFM stations. That window, as we have written before, is to open from October 15-29. Finally, the FCC will be looking at modifications to its Antenna Structure Registration process – which could be important to all tower owners.

As the UHF discount issue is to be considered by the adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, it is no doubt the more controversial of the broadcast issues to be discussed at the meeting. The discount was adopted by the FCC in analog days, when UHF broadcasters faced significant disadvantages. Analog UHF signals (TV channels 14 and above) simply did not travel as far as VHF signals, were less likely to penetrate buildings (especially as many over-the-air antennas were designed for VHF reception), and were far more costly than VHF operations (as VHF transmitters operated at far lower power levels than do transmitters for UHF operations). But, in the digital world, broadcasters found that the world had been turned on its end – with UHF signals being far preferable, as the VHF digital signal was found to be far more susceptible to interference, especially in urban areas. In the less forgiving digital environment (where a signal is either there or not, instead of the degraded "snowy" picture that you could get in the analog world), the UHF signal is generally preferred – despite the higher power costs and the fact that the signals still don’t travel as far.

Continue Reading FCC Meeting to Consider UHF Discount on National TV Multiple Ownership Rules, LPFM Window, and Tower Registration Issues

With the end of the DTV transition, the future use of TV channels 5 and 6, about which we have written before, is now back before the Commission in connection with an FCC filing by the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, whose "radio rescue petition" was recently placed on a public notice opening a 30 day public comment period.   The FCC already has before it comments filed in its Diversity proceeding suggesting that these channels be reallocated for radio use, as Channel 6 is immediately adjacent to the lower end of the FM band, and the sound from many analog channel 6 TV stations could be heard on FM receivers.  While this petition has been opposed by certain TV interests, it is interesting to note that many television operators have been acknowledging that VHF channels, which had been the preferred channels for analog operations, may not be as advantageous for digital use, especially in urban areas, and may be particularly problematic for use with mobile digital television systems which are about to be introduced.

 In an analog world, VHF channels (those between 2 and 13) were prized by broadcasters, as stations operating on those channels could operate at power levels significantly lower than UHF stations (saving electricity costs), and still cover greater areas.  Many broadcasters thought that these benefits, particularly the lower power costs, would carry over into the digital world, and opted to remain on VHF channels for their digital operations – in some case abandoning the UHF temporary transition channel on which they were operating digitally during the period when they were running both a digital and an analog station before the end of the transition, to return to their VHF channel for their final digital operation.  Right after the digital transition was complete and these stations had moved back to their old VHF channels for their digital operations, in several major markets, many broadcasters operating on VHF channels found that their digital operations had significant problems, as the power levels were insufficient to reach many over-the-air sets, particularly those using "rabbit ears" antennas in urban areas.  

Continue Reading Will TV Channel 6 Be Used For Radio? – MMTC Petition Raises the Issue, Again