Sinclair defends low power

Challenges FCC mandate that DTV must be full power for Big Four in top 30

Sinclair Broadcasting has criticized the FCC for letting most stations launch DTV service at power levels far below that necessary to reach their entire markets. Now the Baltimore-based station group wants some leniency for one of its own lower-power DTV facilities.

Sinclair has asked the FCC to rethink its decision forbidding affiliates of Big Four networks in the top 30 markets from using lower-power transmission to meet their digital-TV obligations.

The DTV transition is too costly and the government's buildout deadlines too tight for all large groups to build full-power outlets on time, the company wrote in comments to the FCC, which ruled in May that major stations in big markets, generally the most profitable category, cannot rely on low-cost transmitters that reach only a part of their coverage area to fulfill digital broadcasting requirements.

Such lenient treatment was permitted to other stations, required to go digital May 1. But, because Big Four affiliates in top-30 markets have been required to offer a digital signal since at least Nov. 1, 1999, the FCC reasoned, there was no rationale to lessen their existing requirements. The ruling was issued with proposed sanctions including fines and eventual revocation of licenses.

Sinclair said all the restrictions violate administrative procedures for federal agencies because they were imposed on an interim basis with no notice.

Sinclair still sees lower-power operation as delaying DTV transition by reducing audience size and demand for DTV sets.