Digital Transition: Border Wars

As reported here last spring, the impending transition to digital-only terrestrial television broadcasts (by full power stations) is creating a problem for stations in the United States along the border with Mexico. They have to compete with high-powered TV transmissions from Mexican stations that are serving the same markets on both sides of the border . And the Mexican stations are not obligated to switch to digital broadcasts in February 2009, the way that the U.S. stations will be required to do. This means that viewers can stick with their analog sets, and still receive the Mexican channels.

But maybe the U.S. stations won’t have to switch. The U.S. Senate has passed S.2507, the Digital TV Border Fix Act of 2008. This bill allows full-power analog television stations within 50 miles of the Mexico border to continue broadcasts through February 17, 2014. The bill requires that these broadcasts not interfere with the auction and use of the recovered radio spectrum. The companion bill, H.R.5435 was introduced in February, but remains in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

As always, it’s the exceptions that cause problems, and the challenges facing border TV stations are one unintended consequence of the digital TV transition. I expect that we’ll uncover a few more sticking points before the transition is complete.