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Broadcasters Haggle on Technical Requirements

November 25, 2007

Still not much action in Washington. The agenda for the FCC's November 27 meeting was released. Unfortunately, none of the eight items directly relates to the DTV transition.

They will be considering rules "standardizing and enhancing information provided to the public on how broadcast television stations serve the public interest," that is--rules for broadcasters' public service obligations in the digital TV era. This is something a number of members of Congress and a couple of FCC Commissioners have long been pushing for.

The Commission is also going to consider its "commercial leased access and program carriage rules." This is about giving the little guys a chance to get on the air.

I took a peek at the dockets of a couple of the other DTV transition items I was looking for and saw that the industry is still lobbying. On the education initiative, the industry is still trying to convince the Commissioners that there's no need for mandated consumer education.

Regarding the DTV transition technical rules for broadcasters, there was another mass shindig on November 16, with 18 FCC staffers in attendance in addition to the 11 from industry. This was a field trip to the facilities of local Washington, DC station WUSA. More on this below--

Got LEDs in your LCD? It's the way things are going--that is, moving from cold cathode fluorescent lamp backlights (with their toxic mercury content), to LED arrays. Individual LEDs in these large arrays can be brightened or darkened to greatly increase the contrast ratios of LCDs.

Sony had one--very pricey. Sharp recently showed off a jaw-dropping prototype that should be in mass production in 2010. And Samsung is building them now; ready for prime time? Read the review from Sound and Vision magazine.

On November 16 the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV)--the technical arm of the broadcast industry (NAB is that other arm), hosted a meeting for the FCC staff at the WUSA TV station in Washington DC. The purpose of the meeting was to explain the technical difficulties for broadcasters in switching over to post-transition, full-power digital transmission facilities.

This education effort was is response to the FCC's proposed technical rules for broadcasters, released last spring.

The presentations highlighted the specific issues with switching antennas from analog to digital, and from side-mount to top-mount (on the tower). Because of the peculiarities of individual antenna configurations and their resulting signal coverage areas, the MSTV argued that the FCC's proposed requirements should be changed to allow more flexibility.

The MSTV ex parte submission to the docket summarized the meeting, and included the slide presentation made to the FCC (excerpted below).

"MSTV urged the FCC to allow stations to continue operating with their digital side mount antennas until after the transition, and then have the stations replace these side mount digital antennas with top mounted antennas."

MSTV urged "the adoption of rules enabling stations to reduce and terminate their analog signals early in order to ensure a successful DTV transition."

They also proposed another approach that afforded broadcasters flexibility after the end of the transition that would minimize loss of analog service before the end of the transition.

Their ex parte letter ends with a warning: "Without creating and facilitating these flexible rules and procedures, the DTV transition will not succeed on a timely basis."

My short coverage of this situation (in addition to past articles) is not meant to be comprehensive but only to give you a flavor of what's going on behind the scenes. When the FCC decides on their game plan and publishes their final rules, we'll know more about how the transition will actually go down (or how it's supposed to work).

Until next week . . .