LPDTV?: FCC Ponders New Model

The big transmitter covering a station's entire market has been a staple of broadcasting since the industry's inception in the 1920s, but, in many large markets, the powerful tower soon could be a thing of the past, replaced by a series of lower-power transmitters along the lines of the cellular-telephone model.

The commission is considering allowing digital TV stations to replace their main high-power transmitters with several low-power transmitters operating on the same channel throughout their markets. The aim is to reduce interference in congested areas, where crowded dials create channel conflicts.

A Spectrum Policy Task Force Report indicates that the FCC is considering the idea, and sources say a proposed rulemaking also is in the works. The concept has been gaining support in the broadcast industry since it was floated by consultancy Merrill Weiss Group in 2000.

In June, 17 organizations—including NAB, the Association for Maximum Service Television, the Association for Public Television Stations and several station groups urged the FCC to implement the idea under existing authority to grant primary status to each facility in a station's array of main and booster transmitters.

Primary status allows satellite and translator stations to receive the same interference protections as main transmitters.

The broadcasters also asked for a rulemaking establishing interference rules and coverage areas for distributed transmission, or Single Frequency Networks.

The idea is already being tried by Penn State's experimental station WPSX-DT, and the Advanced Systems Committee is developing standards to synchronize distributed transmitters. Comments are due Jan. 9, replies Feb. 10.

The FCC last week asked for public comment on WSTE(TV) Ponce, P.R.'s request to launch a multi-site transmission facility for both analog and digital operations. WSTE's situation is special because Puerto Rico's mountainous terrain makes extensive use of boosters necessary for stations to reach the entire territory.

WSTE can't reach its boosters from a main transmitter because of unique interference and wants the FCC to treat its array of facilities as a single license with primary status. The station has been operating this way under an experimental license since 1986. Comments are due Jan. 9, replies Jan 24.