Low-Power Stations Petition For Full Power Status

Coalition asks FCC to start process of granting full-power status, vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking scheduled for next week.

A coalition of low-power TV stations Friday said they had signatures from more than 150 station representatives calling for the FCC to start the process of giving several hundred low-power stations a path to full-power status, which would secure them carriage on cable systems.

They argue that is only fair given how much local programming they do and the fact that many will still be in analog when the government transitions full-power TV stations and their over-the-air viewers to digital in February 2009.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the issue next week (Oct. 15) at its public meeting in Nashville. And NPRM is not a final order but instead a proposal that outside parties can comment on and the FCC can tweak accordingly.

The proposal would allow Class A stations to be reclassified as full power and allow other low-power stations to upgrade to Class A status.

The Coalition of Local Television says those changes are only fair and that low powers were the only class of TV service that has been "left out" of the DTV transition.

Coalition member Ron Gordon, President, ZGS Communications, who runs Spanish-speaking low power stations, said on a call with reporters Friday that it was an issue of fundamental fairness, so that low-power stations that aren't required to air a digital signal after Feb. 17, 2009, can continue to reach their audiences after the transition.

He also praised FCC Chairman Kevin Martin for pushing for the rule changes and said that all the commissioners talk about promoting localism, so he trusted they would follow through with their votes. Mayela C. Rosales, EVP of Azteca America, said it would be a historic vote and, again, would demonstrate the FCC's commitment to diversity. Martin proposed the changes with the argument that it would help preserve diversity of voices in broadcast markets.

Coalition members said they would agree to a hard date for low power's transition to digital if packaged with the new must-carry opportunity.

Cable operators oppose the additional must-carry obligations. Not surprising, since they also argue that must-carry in general is an unconstitutional taking of cable property as well as unconstitutional compelled speech.