[opendtv] Re: For rural West, DTV may be lost in translation

  • From: "Bob Miller" <robmxa@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2007 12:49:53 -0400

This will be a good test of broadcasters commitment to their OTA
spectrum. With the few OTA viewers they have with DTV as it is they
have a hard time justifying keeping their transmitters. They have far
less incentive with their translators and NO requirement to protect
their must carry there.

I would expect little action in the translator area. But their
inaction may bring unwanted Congressional interest. We shall see.

Bob Miller

On 3/27/07, Manfredi, Albert E <albert.e.manfredi@xxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
The complete answer would seem to be that translators SHOULD result in
greater advertizing revenues for the station that uses them. Don't cable
systems do this for broadcasters? If translators paid for themselves
that way, there'd be no problem.


For rural West, DTV may be lost in translation

U.S. digital transition could black out areas that use translators for
TV reception

Dylan McGrath
(03/26/2007 9:00 AM EDT)
URL: http://www.eetimes.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=198500398

Many Americans are aware that the looming broadcast television
transition from analog to digital in February 2009 will render legacy
analog TV tuners useless without a converter box. Far fewer are aware
that the digital transition could have the unintended consequence of
eliminating over-the-air TV broadcast to some parts of the country,
especially in the rural West.

Millions of rural dwellers in the western United States--particularly in
states with expanses of open land, such as Colo- rado, Arizona, New
Mexico and Wyoming--owe their TV reception to translator stations, which
relay broadcasts from metropolitan areas. A translator station acts as a
full-duplex repeater, capturing a transmission and then broadcasting it
on a different band (either UHF or VHF). Some 5,000 translators are in
use today in the United States, according to the National Translator
Association (NTA), a trade group that serves owners of translators and
advocates the preservation of free over-the-air transmission of TV and
FM radio signals. Most translators are owned and operated by private TV
stations, but some are overseen by community cooperatives,
rural-government entities, public TV stations or universities.

For now, translator stations, as well as low-power TV stations, are
specifically exempted from the digital TV transition mandated by the
U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and set by Congress to
begin on Feb. 17, 2009. But since many translators are nonprofit--and in
some cases money-losing--ventures, there is a growing fear that some
will not be able to make the required investments in equipment to
receive, convert and rebroadcast digital signals following the

"A lot of [translator stations] are being operated by community groups
that don't have a lot of money to plow into new equipment," said NTA
counsel George Borsari, a Washington-based attorney.

TV stations, meanwhile, operate translators because they want to reach a
larger audience in rural areas, said Gerry Kaufhold, a principal analyst
at market research firm In-Stat. But the television stations do not
receive additional advertising revenue from the outlying areas that the
translators help them reach.

Privately owned translators "are basically operated as a public
service," Kaufhold maintained. "They cost the TV station money."

According to Karl Voss, an engineer with KPNX-TV in Phoenix, community
cooperatives sprang up in the 1960s to fund translators. But as cable
has become available in more areas and as satellite services have
emerged, Voss said, the cooperatives have become less important. Those
that lack the funding or the community support to invest in equipment
upgrades for the digital transition could either "go dark" or be offered
to the metropolitan TV stations they carry, he said.

Voss estimated the cost of upgrading a translator to receive and
broadcast a digital signal at between $5,000 and $25,000, depending on
such factors as the translator's physical location and the age of its
existing equipment. That may not seem like a lot. But since most
translators are not money-making propositions, "it's a really tough
thing for the co-ops to have the money to keep up and maintain the
equipment," he said.

Forcing even a small number of established translators to go dark,
presumably leaving viewers cut off from any over-the-air TV broadcast,
would be "a political cherry bomb," said In-Stat's Kaufhold. In Arizona,
he noted, about 30 percent of the population lives outside the main
metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson, and many of them presumably
get their TV and radio from translators. Over time, he said, it would
make sense for all translators to go digital, but that would likely take
years and cost millions.

"The FCC is probably going to have to have grandfathering, where they
leave some of the analog in place," he said.

But Voss said that "it doesn't make a whole boatload of sense" to
continue translating into analog, because as consumers replace their
aging TVs they will buy digital models that won't be able to receive the
translated signals.

"The translators owned by [TV] stations, I am sure, will be converted,"
Voss said. "I am not so sure about the translators owned by co-ops and

Should the FCC or the broader federal government help financially
strapped translators finance the new equipment and upgrades needed for
the digital broadcast transition?

"The rules exist to keep the translators alive," Voss said, but "the
financing is a different thing. I am not sure that the government should
be financing those translators--then you get into a TV tax sort of deal,
and that's not the way to go."

NTA counsel Borsari said he was not aware of any government proposals
that would provide translators with financial support for making the

The FCC is reviewing translator operator requests for digital companion
channels. But Voss sees a flaw in the FCC policy: If two or more
translator operators request the same digital companion channel, it is
put up for auction.

"You really should have some sort of coordination out there so that this
doesn't all get bottled up and sent to the FCC," Voss said. "A lot of
the decisions are being made by people that don't have to deal with
low-power TV stations or translators"--in other words, by Washington
insiders--rather than by the affected communities.

The NTA's position is that an auction in the case of mutually exclusive
claims on a channel would be inappropriate, Borsari said. But if the FCC
follows its typical operating procedures, he said, it will likely open a
window of opportunity for stations to work out such issues among
themselves before proceeding to an auction.

For Borsari, the difficulties of the DTV transition are personal. For
three years, he's been receiving digital broadcast TV in his home. He
said reception remains "terrible" and requires an outside antenna.

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