FCC Set To Release Rules For New Replacement Translator Service

Will allow stations to use translators to fill in gaps in DTV signal coverage

Look for the FCC to release soon, perhaps this week according to FCC sources, rules for the new replacement digital translator service, which will allow stations to use translators to fill in gaps in DTV signal coverage both within their current digital coverage areas and to replicate their former analog reach.

According to an FCC source familiar with the item, which has yet to be voted, it is expected to extend the construction deadline for the new translators to the normal three-year period from the proposed abbreviated six months. It is also expected to exclude translators from channels 52 to 59, the spectrum that is being cleared for advanced wireless uses, said the source.

The FCC proposed the new fill-in service back in December, but was not under the same time pressure to release the order as other DTV-related items since at the same time it said it would start granting special temporary authority (STAs) to stations that wanted to start filling in gaps immediately.

In addition to helping broadcasters fill in those gaps due to terrain and interference avoidance in their DTV coverage areas, the FCC also proposed allowing broadcasters to use the translators to replicate their former analog coverage areas (technically, their protected grade B contours) since the switch to digital changed some of those, meaning some former viewers could no longer get historically viewed stations.

The FCC has been allowing stations to go ahead and add those translators under special temporary authority given the swift approach of the DTV transition date of June 12, but broadcasters have been looking for the regular rules of the road, including whether or not the commission would hold to the six-month construction deadline for those translators, which some broadcasters had told the FCC they thought was too short a time frame.

The translators are not intended to be used to provide signals to viewers outside of a station's FCC-defined market who might have been getting a weak analog signal and now will get no signal at all.

The new rules will also establish just how far the translator fill-in signal may travel and to establish that, unlike other translators, the fill-in' license will be tied to the main DTV license and cannot be sold separately.