CBA Wants Conditions on DTV Translator Service

Community Broadcasters Association concerned FCC plan to fill coverage gaps will crowd out small businesses.

The Community Broadcasters Association (CBA) has asked the FCC to put a number of conditions on its proposed new DTV translator service.

The FCC has been billing the proposal as an opportunity for TV stations to fill in coverage area gaps in their DTV signals, an issue that came to the fore after the FCC’s DTV test in Wilmington, N.C. But CBA, which represents low-power broadcasters, wants to make sure that helping those stations does not come at the expense of low-power broadcasters, which they say means confining applications only to full-power TV stations and only to filling in reception gaps rather than expanding their coverage areas.

One of the issues the FCC is faced with is unhappy viewers who received an analog signal but won't get the same signal in digital because of coverage area changes between the two. While CBA does not mind full-power stations using the translators to help signal-challenged viewers in their coverage areas, they are not keen on using it to try to recreate analog coverage areas.

"Without denigrating the value for service to fill in gaps in full power digital television service," CBA wrote, "the Community Broadcasters Association (“CBA”) strongly urges the Commission to recognize that the occupancy of spectrum by new fill-in translators will shrink opportunities for small businesses and new entrants to improve existing Class A and LPTV facilities and to apply for new stations to bring new programming to the nation’s communities.  

"This loss of spectrum will also reduce the availability of channels needed by Class A, LPTV, and existing TV translator stations to accomplish the transition to digital operation that they will soon be required to undertake and which many feel they need to undertake immediately." 

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wanted to vote to approve the new service this week, but cancelled the Dec. 18 meeting after getting a letter from a pair of powerful legislators advising him about the agenda items he should confine the meeting to.

When it does vote, which could be before the next public meeting, CBA wants the FCC to condition applications on the following:

1. Only fully power stations should be permitted to apply for stations to be used translate only their own stations 100% of the time.

2. Translators should be authorized only where the applicant can demonstrate clearly that an on-channel booster or the new recently authorized distributed transmission technology cannot be used.

3. New translators and major changes in existing translators should not be permitted to serve areas beyond the larger of the primary station’s predicted noise-free digital service area or its predicted Grade B analog service area.

4. Translators authorized in the limited window should not be permitted to convert to LPTV operation.

5. Licenses for translators authorized in the limited window should not be assignable. When and if they are no longer needed, the spectrum should be returned to the Commission so that it is available for new applications.

6. Translators authorized during the special window should not be permitted to provide any ancillary services except by relaying the signal of the parent full power station.