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FCC OK's Dotcast

Broadcasters looking for that vaunted additional revenue stream from ancillary services can now try to cash in without having to wait for the digital conversion.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Dotcast Inc. says it is gearing up to take datacasting from the drawing board to the TV screen after winning FCC certification for its service last week. Broadcasters are free to add Dotcast's service without seeking additional government approval.

More than 200 ABC, Paxson and PBS stations have signed on to use the Dotcast system to transmit movie trailers, music, games and other information to viewers with decoder boxes. The system is also designed to work with personal computers and mobile communications devices outfitted with the company's receivers.

Last week's approval was based on a 1996 rule allowing broadcasters to add FCC-certified ancillary transmission services without each station's having to individually petition the commission. Microsoft is the only other company to obtain similar certification, but the PC operating-system giant never implemented the approved gaming technology.

The digital technology can be added to broadcasters' analog as well as digital transmissions, giving the company the advantage of rolling out the cutting-edge service long before most consumers switch to DTV sets.

Datacasters with digital-only services have faced doubts about their viability because their markets aren't likely to ripen for years. Of Dotcast's two other rivals, only Los Angeles-based broadcast consortium iBlast remains. Menlo Park, Calif.'s Geocast Network Systems shut its doors in March 2001.

An analog signal can be outfitted with Dotcast's service by adding a radio-frequency-based data subcarrier at the output of a transmitter's exciter. Dotcast says its system can transmit 4.7 million bits per second when added to analog signals, well above the FCC's definition for broadband data service. Added to digital, the transmission rate more than doubles to 10 Mb/s.

Under conditions of Dotcast's approval, TV stations employing Dotcast's services may not suffer degradation of program-related signals, increase the width of a channel beyond the standard 6 MHz, exceed emission limits or create interference to adjacent or co-channel stations beyond the amount created by transmission of standard video programming. Interference and other technical tests have been conducted at PBS station KCTS-TV and Fisher Broadcasting's KOMO-TV, both in Seattle.

To pay for the build-out, Dotcast has $100 million in cash from eight investment partners. Additionally, Harris Corp. will install Dotcast's system at participating stations. To distribute the large amounts of digital content, Dotcast has an agreement to use SONICBlue's ReplayTV digital video recording technology.

Chief Operating Officer Jack Lawrence said additional plans for the rollout will be unveiled mid-August.