TV Station Gets OK to Shut Down Analog

Another TV station has received federal approval to shut down analog service and complete the transition to digital broadcasting more than two years earlier than technically required.

The Federal Communications Commission granted analog-shutoff permission Thursday to WRNN-TV in Kingston, N.Y. The agency said the station’s current off-air-only viewers would not be harmed because Nielsen Media Research reported in April that WRNN-TV had “no reportable over-the-air viewing.”

After WRNN-TV terminates analog broadcasting, it may demand cable-system carriage of its digital signal. Under current FCC policies, however, the station may insist on analog-cable carriage of the digital signal if it pays for conversion equipment at cable headends.

WRNN-TV notified the FCC that it planned to demand analog-cable carriage. Digital-TV stations currently have no carriage rights on direct-broadcast satellite because the commission has yet to adopt rules in this area.

Just a few stations have been given the green-light to cease analog TV: WMCN (formerly WACC) in Atlantic City, N.J.; WNTV in Goldvein, Va.; and KVMD in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

KJLA, a bilingual station in Los Angeles, has filed an analog-shutdown request but the FCC has not placed it on public notice.

The U.S. has 1,744 full-power commercial- and public-TV stations, according to FCC figures released March 31. All are required to transition to digital.

The digital-TV transition is supposed to conclude Dec. 31, 2006, unless TV stations can demonstrate that fewer than 85% of local TV households have digital-TV-reception equipment, such as digital-TV sets or digital set-top boxes.

The FCC is formulating a plan under Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree that would likely end the transition Dec. 31, 2008, under a scheme that would require TV stations to elect must-carry just for their digital signals and require cable operators to downconvert those signals to analog. TV households that received downconverted digital signals would count toward the 85% threshold.

Broadcasters strongly oppose the Ferree plan, saying that it places spectrum-reclamation needs ahead of consumer interests.

The FCC reckons that if the number of downconverted households were added to the number of DBS subscribers who buy local-TV-signal packages, the 85% test would be met in the vast majority of TV markets Dec. 31, 2008, thus ending the digital TV transition on a date certain rather than tying it to an unknowable date based on household penetration of digital equipment.

WRNN filed its request Dec. 19, and it was placed on public notice April 27. WRNN’s station occupies channel 62, which is within a 66-megahertz block of spectrum that the FCC is attempting to clear for advanced wireless services and public-safety needs.

WRNN's digital signal could occupy channel 48.

The FCC said it is willing to grant an analog-shutdown request if, among other things, it would expedite band-clearing and if it did not involve any of the top-four-rated stations in the relevant market.

WRNN had a big incentive to transition to digital. The station informed the FCC that its digital signal would extend its “interference-free coverage to an additional 11.9 million people.”

A WRNN spokesman did not return a reporter's call for comment.