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FCC Spokesman: VHF Issues Solvable

The FCC is redeploying forces to some major urban areas to deal with post-DTV transition reception and education issues, but spokesman Rick Kaplan says the FCC remains in mop-up mode, and "definitely not" panic mode. He says the problems appear solvable, and are being addressed on a market-by-market basis.

Some stations that moved from UHF to VHF digital channels are having trouble reaching apartments, condos and buildings in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston, for example. Kaplan says it has tended to be mostly in urban areas.

Kaplan confirms that WHDH Boston was permitted to simulcast back to its pre-transition UHF channel assignment Tuesday while its engineers work on its reception problems. Due to the differing propagation techniques, UHF signals have an easier time penetrating buildings, while VHFs do better negotiating rolling terrain, according to the commission.

The FCC has sent more staffers to Chicago to help ABC's WLS with its now well-documented reception issues, as well as to Philadelphia to help out with ABC's WPVI. "We have a lot of people on the ground in Philadelphia and they are trying to arrange a power arrangement with other stations for [WPVI] to go up in power."

More staffers are headed to New York as well, he said, but that is more to help the education effort about rescanning or moving rabbit ears, he says. He also says the FCC has the flexibility to redeploy because they can be moved out of places where there are "barely any complaints."

He says that WBBM Chicago was also having reception issues, but that it ramped up its call center effort, emphasized the FCC's double re-scanning advice, and that that had solved most of the problems. The commission has been pushing viewers to clear their converter box memories then re-scan again to make sure the equipment can find all the channels.

But some of the issues won't be solved by consumer education or rescanning. For those, says Kaplan, stations may need to boost power, allow for fill-in translators, or even changing channels if there is one available.

There have been reports of reception problems in the commission's back yard, at WUSA for example, according to the Washington Post. Kaplan says that the FCC hadn't gotten a lot of calls about the station. "In most places you can get it," he said.

He said the FCC looked at the VHF reception issue after Feb. 17 and there were "barely any reported problems." But he does concede the problems in big cities where it is harder for VHF signals getting through buildings. He said there were also some problems in Nashville with reception close to the transmitters, but not further away, which he said may also be a building issue.

"We're seeing more problems with VHF stations...but it has not been a widespread issue," he says. "There are plenty of places that are doing just fine."