Martin States Low-Power Stations’ Case in DTV Transition

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pushes for Carriage of Low-Power Stations on Excess Digital Capacity

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin released a letter Wednesday that he sent to the major players in the digital-TV transition.

Martin wants them all to take steps to help low-power stations continue to be seen after the transition to digital, pointing out that thousands of those stations will still be broadcasting in analog after the Feb. 17, 2009, date that is being advertised as the switch to digital TV.

Since most of the DTV-to-analog converter boxes the government has made eligible for its subsidy program don't pass through analog signals, viewers may not get many of those low-power signals.

Ironically, those stations are ones that deliver local programming to the minority and rural populations most likely to need the converter boxes.

Martin is proposing that broadcasters carry some of those low-powers on their excess digital capacity, and he wants cable and satellite operators to carry those stations voluntarily, as well, when they have capacity. Separately, he is proposing granting full-power status to some 600 low-powers, which would mean that cable would have to carry them.

Martin added that he has asked converter-box manufacturers to make sure that future boxes contain the analog pass-through function and that retailers stock at least one such box in all of their stores.

The letter was sent to National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow, National Association of Broadcasters president David Rehr, Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro, Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition executive director Mark Pearl and Satellite Industry Association president Patricia Cooper.

For his part, McSlarrow said Wednesday that he was willing to work with low-power stations to carry them – voluntarily -- where it is feasible, just as the industry agreed to carry a viewable full-power signal to all of its subscribers.

Ron Bruno, who heads low-power group the Community Broadcasters Association, said that without this government help, his industry could go bankrupt, adding that each converter box hooked up means a loss of viewers.