LPTV, satellite to get second channels

Low-power and satellite TV stations will be entitled to second channels
during the transition to digital television, the Federal Communications
Commission decided Wednesday.

The commissioners approved the grant of additional channels as part of a
series of decisions tackled during their August meeting aimed at expanding
the deployment of telecommunications services in rural areas.

LPTV stations operate as independent stations but with smaller coverage areas
and with generally lower interference protections than full-power stations.

While technologically the same as LPTV outlets, satellite stations serve
different functions, generally as either translators that rebroadcast signals to
rural communities outside primary stations’ coverage areas or as boosters that
fill in coverage gaps that terrain and other factors can create in full-power
stations’ signals.

Although rules for the conversion of full-power stations have been in place
since 1997, none had yet been set for LPTV and satellites, which serve as
critical programming links to rural communities not served by their own stations
or to minority groups or neighborhoods in urban areas.

"Some of these stations provide the only source of television in their local
communities," said FCC Media Bureau chief Ken Ferree.

The commission tentatively concluded that LPTV stations should be required to
broadcast digital signals with visual quality at least equal to analog signals
and that ancillary and supplemental services be permitted within any remaining
channel capacity.

That and other tentative conclusions will become FCC policy for now, but
changes could be made after a review of public comments and a final vote on LPTV

As with analog LPTV outlets, the digital versions would be "secondary"
licensees barred from interfering with full-power stations, land mobile-radio
operators and other primary services.

To issue the new channels, the FCC tentatively concluded that the best way to
go is to initially open a digital-only application window for existing LPTV and
satellite licensees.

Afterward, new licensees could get permits on a first-come, first-served
basis through a series of one-day filing windows.

Available channels would be all channels between 2-59 except 37, which is
used for radio astronomy.

The commission seeks comment on whether 60-69 should be used during the
transition even though those channels will be off-limits when the switch to digital TV
is complete.

The FCC is also seeking comment on whether LPTV and satellite stations should
have the same trigger dates for returning analog spectrum to the government --
namely when 85% of television households in a market are capable of receiving digital-TV signals either over-the-air or through cable.

Eddie Owen, president of the Community Broadcasters Association, the low-power trade group, praised the decision to give his members and satellites
second channels during the rest of the digital-TV transition.

"Dual-channel operation will make the overall conversion process for our
station owners much easier and practical and will ensure that no viewer is
deprived of service," he said.