NAB Wants DTV Leeway

Says 'use-it-or-lose-it' coverage requirements are unfair


Digital Revisions

Broadcasters want the FCC to make sure that TV stations aren't penalized by uncertainty over final DTV channel assignments. Last week, the NAB and the Association for Maximum Service Television urged the FCC to drop plans for "use-it-or-lose-it" deadlines for stations to reach their entire coverage area with a digital signal.

An FCC proposal would strip stations of their rights to cover their entire coverage area well before the end of the DTV transition. In the case of Big Four network affiliates in top-100 markets, that would be July 1, 2005; for all other DTV broadcasters, a year later.

The deadlines pose a problem because not all stations have a DTV allotment in core channels 2-50. Those outside the core eventually will have to relocate because that spectrum is being auctioned to other users, the trade groups warned, forcing another reallotment after the DTV transition.

Instead, the broadcasters want to postpone the drop-dead date until the transition to DTV is complete and the elimination of analog channels gives them better frequency choices.

To diminish the potential for chaos on the allotment table, NAB and MSTV asked the FCC to establish a May 1, 2005, deadline for electing to keep their current DTV channel or switching to their analog. Broadcasters also should be prohibited from swapping their analog and digital channels without first being subjected to an FCC rulemaking.

Responding to proposals that the FCC issued two months ago, they urged the agency to let smaller-market and lower-revenue stations phase in DTV hours of operations. Broadcasters awaiting permanent DTV assignments should not be forced to launch lower-power operations on temporary channels, they added. The groups also reiterated calls to eliminate analog/digital simulcasting requirements and to establish technical requirements for receivers.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, on the other hand, argued that eliminating the simulcasting mandate would lead stations to perpetuate their analog station as a distinct revenue stream.

The Advanced Television Systems Committee argued that the FCC would need to take no action if broadcasters rolled out new digital transmission systems that rely on many cellular-phone–style transmitters in a market rather than a lone high-power antenna tower. The idea, devised by the Merrill Weiss Group, is being promoted as a way to get around signal echoes and other reception problems.

Distributed transmission would be similar to low-power translators and booster stations already used to expand TV stations' reach. The only difference: ATSC says the FCC should grant distributed transmitters the same interference protection as primary towers. Translators and boosters, by contrast, must yield to other primary licensees that create or receive interference.

The Consumer Electronics Association argued that broadcasters should be required to stick with DTV programming quotas.