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FCC Creates Digital Television Translator Service

On December 23, 2008, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to create a new “replacement” digital television translator service.

Today, the FCC released a Report and Order creating that service, outlining the parameters of the new service, and setting forth application procedures. The purpose of the Digital Television Translator service is to permit full-power television stations to continue to provide service to viewers who have lost or will lose service as a result of a station’s digital transition. As a result, only the licensees of full-power television stations are eligible to apply, and the translators are to be used solely to serve a station’s analog loss areas created by the transition to digital. The FCC indicates that the service “is not intended for digital full-service stations to use in proposed digital service areas, where analog service did not formerly exist.”

Replacement Digital Translator Parameters
Replacement digital translator stations will only be licensed for operation on in-core channels 2-51. Licensees will be granted three years in which to construct the translator facilities. They will be licensed with secondary status, meaning that they will not be permitted to cause interference to, and must accept interference from, full-service television stations and other primary services.

Unlike other translator stations, the license for these “fill-in” digital translators will be associated with the full-power station’s main license and the translator will be assigned the same four letter call sign as the full-power station operating it. The translator license may not be separately assigned or transferred and will be renewed or assigned along with the main station license (similar to an analog booster facility). Most of the other rules applicable to television translator stations will also apply to these replacement digital translators, including power limits, out-of-channel emission limits, unattended operation requirements, and time of operation requirements.

Application Requirements
Applications for a replacement digital translator station must be submitted via FCC Form 346; there will be no filing fee associated with the application. Stations applying for a replacement digital television translator must be able to demonstrate that a portion of their analog service area will not be served by their full, post-transition digital facilities and that the proposed translator will be used to fill-in the resulting loss area. In order to make this demonstration, applicants “must submit an engineering study that depicts both the full-service station’s analog service area, as well as its post-transition digital facility which does not serve that station’s entire analog service area.” Stations that cannot serve analog loss areas without also slightly expanding beyond their analog service area will be permitted to propose a de minimis expansion upon a showing that it is necessary. Such expansion requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they are truly de minimis. Applications for replacement digital translator stations may not cause interference to authorized analog and digital low power television and TV translator facilities.

Application Processing Priorities
Based on the need for stations transitioning to digital broadcasting to replicate their pre-transition analog service areas as soon as possible, applications for replacement digital translators will have processing priority over applications filed by low power television and TV translator stations, except for low power/translator displacement applications (with which they will have co-equal priority). Applications filed for full-service television and Class A television stations will have processing priority over applications for replacement digital television translators. While the FCC has already been accepting applications for replacement digital translators pursuant to interim processing procedures, the FCC indicates that it will be announcing shortly when applications may be filed under the rules adopted today.

A PDF version of this article can be found at FCC Creates Digital Television Translator Service.