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Are Ch. 6 Protection Rules Still Needed?

NCE-FMs have waited more than patiently for their ‘turn at bat’

The Petition for Rule Making by National Public Radio to repeal Section 73.525 of Federal Communications Commission rules pertaining to the protection of TV Channel 6 by NCE-FM stations has garnered a good deal of support, particularly among the consulting engineering community and NCE-FM broadcasters.

Those opposed to its repeal are, not surprisingly, a few remaining Channel 6 DTV facilities (most notably ABC and WPVI-DT, Philadelphia) and some LPTV CH 6 facilities hoping that the commission will continue its current policy requiring full-service NCEs to protect those facilities and proposals.

NPR makes some excellent points in its NPRM, among them:

  • • The current protection standards were adopted in 1985 and were based on conditions at that time with the expectation that the standards would be interim in nature. However, the rule has not been revisited in the intervening 25 years.
  • • Digital television (DTV) receivers are substantially less vulnerable to NCE-FM induced TV 6 interference than analog receivers tested 30 years ago, which formed the basis for 73.525 protection standards.
  • • Demand for NCE-FM service has steadily grown while the demand for TV 6 full-service facilities has declined.
  • • Elimination of Section 73.525 would allow numerous NCE-FM stations to increase their service area.

NPR submitted two technical documents to the FCC in September 2008 detailing its study of Channel 6 receiver interference, the first in-depth studies since the 1979 FCC conducted studies, which formed the basis for the Section 73.525 Rules enacted in 1985.

These studies showed a reduction in interference to DTV receivers compared to that currently assumed by the analog protection rule. Simply put, the improvement factors based on current receiver technology are so significant that supporters of the rule’s repeal believe the public interest is best served by taking these changes into account at the earliest possible opportunity.

The NPR proposal is particularly important to NCE broadcasters due to the disparate and sometimes uneven application of TV 6 protection standards by the Media Bureau regarding full-service NCE applications.

For instance, the dismissal of the KEKL(FM), Mesquite, Nev., application in January 2009, based on the application’s failure to address potential interference to LPTV station KVPX(LP), represented a heretofore unexpected requirement for NCE stations given the fact that protection to LPTV facilities is not spoken to in Section 73.525.

Additionally, Section 73.623(f) requires new DTV allotments on Channel 6 to demonstrate that no new interference would be caused to existing NCE-FMs but this requirement does not appear to be adhered to especially by the LPTV service.

Shortly the FCC will begin accepting and processing additional applications for new Channel 6 DTV LPTV facilities. The situation is somewhat dire now due to the existence of a number of Channel 6 LPTV applications filed in the August 2009 initial rural filing opportunity.

Once the Jan. 25, 2010 filing opportunity commences, the NCE-FM service will be potentially impacted, on a nationwide basis, in terms of both major change applications and minor facility changes. This impact is associated with the requirement that Channel 6 DTV facilities be protected and also the fact that existing NCE-FM facilities may not be protected by the LPTV filings.

It is believed, as of this writing in early December, that the Media Bureau staff may no longer require protection of Channel 6 LPTV facilities. A Public Notice addressing NCE-FM protection of Channel 6, and LPTV Channel 6 protection of NCE-FM facilities, has not been released, so broadcasters are cautioned to inquire before taking this assumption at face value or proceeding to file applications with the FCC.

Should a Public Notice to this effect not be released prior to the commencement of the Jan. 25 LPTV filing opportunity, NCEs that haven’t previously filed are strongly urged to submit late-filed comments in support of the NPR proceeding.

NCE-FMs have waited more than patiently for their “turn at bat.” The NPR proceeding deserves serious consideration by the commission.

Laura Mizrahi of Communications Technologies Inc. has been involved in broadcast consulting engineering for more than 20 years. Questions of a broadcast technical nature can be sent to[email protected].