NPS to FCC: Figure Out Distant Nets Before DTV Switch

As the nation's transition to digital TV draws closer, another wrinkle has developed prior to the February 2009 switch: What about consumers who do not have access to any digital broadcast signals?

National Programming Service, the C-Band programming company that has been in business since 1985, raised that concern late last week. In a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission Friday, NPS urged the agency to adopt rules that would provide consumers with the tools to determine - prior to the digital TV transition - how best to receive digital broadcast network signals.

"The urgency for simple and straightforward eligibility criteria to determine whether a household is unserved by digital signals is heightened by the rapidly approaching date for the digital transition," NPS said in its filing.

The company asked the FCC to take action to ensure that TV viewers who are unable to access off-air digital signals after the DTV conversion can obtain broadcast network signals through other means, including distant network signals.

NPS said there should be an accurate predictive model to determine digital signal availability. With the model, consumers who do not get an over-the-air signal could determine their eligibility for distant digital signals. Consumers also could use the model at a particular location to determine the type of off-air digital antenna needed to receive local digital signals, the company said.

In addition, NPS asked the commission to adopt a transitional mechanism that would establish a limited time period during which consumers who are unable to receive an off-air digital signal could qualify for distant digital signals without seeking a waiver from local broadcast stations.

In its filing, NPS said it serves more than 40,000 C-Band subscribers with programming services, including distant network signals for qualified customers. In 2006, NPS began providing distant network television service to DBS subscribers.