DTV Station, Time Warner in Dispute

A California TV station planning to surrender its analog license this month is having trouble securing digital signal carriage from Time Warner Cable in the Los Angeles market.

The dispute could become an important test of Federal Communications Commission policies, as station KVMD in Twentynine Palms is the first broadcaster to commit to making an immediate transition to digital-only TV.

The station notified the commission of its plans in September. Under FCC rules, KVMD is entitled to elect mandatory cable carriage once it gives up its analog-TV license. In January 2001, the FCC ruled that digital-only TV stations may also demand cable carriage in analog if they supply the conversion equipment.

In KVMD's case, the instantaneous switch to digital has enormous upside. The station's analog signal covers about 60,000 people. The digital signal, beamed from a powerful transmitter, is expected to reach an additional 4.8 million people.

KVMD has been operating its digital station at reduced power levels pursuant to a special FCC license. In September, Time Warner sent the station a carriage-rejection letter, claiming that it failed to deliver a "good-quality signal" to the relevant headend.

In its FCC complaint, KVMD said Time Warner must have been measuring the analog signal because the MSO's testing occurred a few months prior to the launch of the digital-TV signal.