As we reported on December 23, the Commission proposed the creation of a new “replacement digital television translator service” to provide one more way to avoid loss of TV service when we all cross the threshold into DigitalOnlyLand in February. Now, before anyone has even had a chance to file comments on the proposed new service, the Media Bureau has announced that it will start accepting applications for new replacement digital translators on January 5, 2009. 

Processing of the CP applications will be deferred until the Commission gets around to adopting the rule changes necessary to implement the new service but that doesn’t mean we won’t be seeing new replacement translators cranking up all over the place in the immediate future: the Bureau has also announced (with the full Commission’s blessing) that the STA window will be open for business as of January 5 as well.

Here’s how the system will work.

If you want a replacement digital translator, you may file for it using FCC Form 346 on CDBS starting on January 5. (Purse-strings note: The filing fee for the application is $675.) Your application will have to include a technical showing that: (a) a portion of your existing full-service TV station’s analog service area will not be served by that station’s full, post-transition digital facilities, and (b) the proposed replacement translator will serve only the demonstrated loss area. For these purposes, “analog service area” is being defined as “the authorized service area actually served by the analog signal prior to analog termination for the transition”.

While the Bureau emphasizes that replacement translators must be limited to the demonstrated loss area, there’s a loophole: you may propose replacement translator service beyond the loss area, but to do so you must demonstrate that it is “impossible to site a translator that replaces a loss area without also slightly expanding the full-service station’s digital service area.” The Bureau offers no definition of the word “slightly”.

A few other things to bear in mind.

  • Replacement translators may not operate on Channels 60-69. 
  • Channels 52-59 may be used, but only if no suitable in-core channel (i.e., Channels 2-51) is available.  A “suitable in-core channel” is defined as “one which would enable the station to produce a digital service area comparable to its analog service area.” Any applicant seeking an out-of-core channel will have to certify to the unavailability of any suitable in-core channel. 
  • Out-of-core applicants will have to notify all potentially affected 700 MHz commercial wireless licensees of the spectrum comprising the proposed TV channel and the channels first adjacent to that proposed channel. That means all co- and first adjacent-channel wireless licensees within whose licensed geographic boundaries the replacement translator is proposed to be located as well as all co- and first adjacent-channel licensees whose geographic service area boundaries lie within 75 miles and 50 miles, respectively, of the proposed translator site. (Identity and contact information for all 700 MHz wireless licensees is available through ULS.) These notifications must be made when you file your application, and you will be required to certify in the application that the notification requirements have been met.

So much for the CP application. If you want an STA – which, if granted, will allow you to crank up your replacement translator immediamente – you can file for one through CDBS, also starting on January 5. STA requests have to include the same showings and certifications described above. That shouldn’t be too hard to handle, though, because another condition of the STA process is that the STA applicant must simultaneously file for an application for a construction permit – so you can presumably re-cycle the showings included in the application. (Extra purse-string note: there’s a separate $160 filing fee for the STA request.)

The Bureau’s public notice does not address the sticky issue of possible mutual exclusivity, but the full Commission did in its pre-Christmas NPRM: Applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis, with the earliest filed application getting priority. If more than one mutually exclusive application is filed on the same day, the FCC will allow a 10-day settlement period. If there is no settlement, the applications will go to auction.

The window opens on January 5. Happy New Year.