Capital Watch


LPTV, Satellites Get 2nd Channel

Low power and satellite TV stations will get a second channel during the transition to DTV, the FCC decided last week.

The commissioners approved the additional channels as part of a series of decisions aimed at expanding deployment of telecommunications services in rural areas.

LPTVs operate as independent stations, but with smaller coverage areas and generally lower interference protections than full powers. While technologically the same as LPTV outlets, satellite stations usually serve as either translators, which rebroadcast signals to rural communities outside a primary stations' coverage area, or as boosters that fill in coverage gaps in a full-power station's signal created by terrain and other factors. LPTVs and satellites serve as programming links to rural communities.

The commission tentatively concluded that LPTVs DTV signal should have visual quality at least equal to an analog signal, and that ancillary and supplemental services be permitted within any remaining channel capacity. That and other tentative conclusions will become FCC policy, but changes could be made after a review of public comments and a final vote. The commission seeks comment on whether channels 60-69 should be used during the transition even though they will be off limits when the switch to DTV is complete. It is also seeking comment on whether LPTVs and satellites should have the same trigger dates for returning analog spectrum to the government—when 85% of TV households in a market can receive a DTV signal either over-the-air or through cable.

Targeting Minority Media

Amid concern over Univision's bid to acquire Hispanic Broadcasting, Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) have introduced a bill that would require the FCC to solicit public comment, including holding a public hearing, before transferring the license of a TV or radio station that broadcasts in a "minority language." In addition to Spanish, the bill defines minority language as the native tongue of any minority group designated by the Voting Rights Act, including American Indians, Asian Americans and Alaskan Natives.

FTC Stops Rhino in its Tracks

Facing charges that it deceptively marketed its WaveScrambler cell phone radiation protection device in TV ads, Rhino International has settled with the FTC.

Rhino agreed not to suggest in its ads that its products, which fit on a cell phone earpiece, "could block a substantial amount of radiation and other electromagnetic energy emitted by cellular telephones, thereby reducing consumers' exposure to this radiation." It is now required to have scientific evidence for any claims, and must point out in its ads that most of the radiation from cell phones comes from the antenna and parts other than the earpiece. Rhino has also agreed to pay $342,665 to consumers who bought its product.

'I'm here!'

How many times do I have to say it? I'm here!" FCC Chairman Michael Powell (above) told reporters after an FCC meeting last week. Powell appeared exasperated by the questions, which came only two days after the AP reported he had assured senior staff of his "firm intention" to remain at his post. Powell's term isn't up until 2007, although almost no one expects he will stay that long.

But Powell insists he's not cutting out this year. Still, talk persists that he will resign this fall because of Capitol Hill's negative reaction to his plan for relaxing television-ownership rules. Although Powell has issued a statement criticizing a House vote to roll back the cap to 45% of TV households, he also said the fate of the rules is a matter to be decided by Congress and the White House.