Capital Watch - Broadcasting & Cable

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Digital Squeeze

After 18 months of plotting—as in graphs and charts—DTV trade group MSTV has come up with a plan for squeezing all 1,597 full-power TV stations into channels 2-51 after the government reclaims channels 52-69 at the end of the digital transition.

It is the FCC's job to come up with a plan, and MSTV hopes it's this one, which the group says can fit everybody in without creating a mishmash of interference. "This plan provides the blueprint for starting and finishing this process in a timely fashion," says MSTV President and LIN TV CEO Gary Chapman.

According to the group's plan, 169 stations operating channels outside the 2-51 "TV core" have no place to go as of yet and will need the government to assign channels; 15 more have no DTV channel assigned at all. Another 188 stations will be unhappy because potential interference with other stations prevents them from retaining the analog channel they've invested years and big bucks in building into a local brand. The remaining 1,225, however, will be able to choose which of their current two channels they want to keep. MSTV's plan was approved by board members in Las Vegas Monday.

Next on the channel-repacking agenda: figuring out how to fit in satellite stations, which broadcasters use to reach isolated rural communities, and low-power TV stations.

FM Daze

At long last, the FCC has rescheduled its oft delayed auction of hundreds of new commercial FM channels.

On Nov. 3, 290 allotments, mostly for small markets, will be put on the block. Minimum bids range from $1,500 (Idalia, Colo.) to $200,000 (Wahiawa, Hawaii).

The bidding was originally scheduled for February 2001 and was to include 350 stations. The sale was postponed several times, in part because a court victory for public radio gave noncommercial operators first crack at getting the channels free before they're auctioned to commercial bidders.

Because of the ruling, 60 channels were removed from the auction and awarded to noncoms.

Pretty Radio

Two years ago, the FCC chose the technology for digital radio. Now it's tackling the hardest part of switching AMs and FMs from analog.

A whole bunch of problems must be solved as radio stations launch digital broadcasts that offer sound quality and multichannel capabilities comparable to the improvements that digital is bringing to television.

The FCC is reviewing copy-protection measures to restrict illegal duplication and redistribution of songs, solutions to interference with nighttime AM broadcasts, possible public-interest obligations of digital stations, and the impact a digital switch will have on low-power and noncommercial outlets.

When it comes to copy protection, the FCC made clear it is only launching an inquiry, a move two steps away from formal rules.

Rules covering most of the other issues could be set within a year.

Copps to radio's rescue

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps (above) and a senior State Department official jetted to Mexico to face down communications authorities there.

Word is, they succeeded. The Mexican authorities have apparently been reluctant to rein in three new radio stations on the northwest border that are causing major interference for U.S. AMs. State Department officials are expected to announce shortly that the south-of the-border stations will reduce power to eliminate it.

For several months, Disney/ABC's KABC Los Angeles and KSFO San Francisco have lost as much as 20% of their coverage. Roughly a dozen other stations in the West and Midwest are affected, the most distant being Infinity's WBBM Chicago.

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