FCC won’t fine county for unlicensed TV translators | AspenTimes.com

FCC won’t fine county for unlicensed TV translators

Janet Urquhart

Pitkin County has some good news and some bad news about the static that has replaced television reception for some of the county’s TV viewers.

The good news is, the county won’t face hefty federal fines for operating unlicensed TV translators. The bad news is, viewers who rely on rabbit ears to tune in their favorite shows may not be watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for some time to come.

The county shut down 19 translators on July 22 after discovering the translators were not licensed with the Federal Communications Commission. The move wiped out television reception, at least on some channels, for viewers who do not have cable TV or a satellite dish.

How viewers are affected depends upon where they live, according to Stan Berryman, the county’s director of public works. Viewers may find they can no longer tune in PBS, the WB, NBC, CBS or ABC or some combination of those networks.

Three days after the county shut down the translators, which rebroadcast television signals off mountaintops, the county’s Washington, D.C., attorney on FCC matters appeared before commission representatives to plead the county’s case.

The county could have faced a six-figure fine for the violation, but the FCC has indicated it won’t penalize the county, Berryman said.

“Luckily, the FCC was appreciative that we voluntarily shut off the translators and were reapplying for licenses,” he said.

The Aug. 4 deadline to apply for licenses has been extended to Aug. 31. By that date, the FCC is likely to receive thousands of license applications from across the country, predicted Berryman.

“It may take a long time to have them act on those,” he said.

Berryman said he has no way of knowing how long the translators will be shut down, but it could be for the rest of the year or into 2001, he said.

The county’s attorney in Washington, Henry Soloman, will work to expedite the county’s application if possible, Berryman said.

“We’ll try to get them back on for people as quick as we can,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate situation, but the county took the position to definitely follow the law on this one.”

Berryman said it is difficult to estimate how many county residents may be affected by the situation.

It most likely impacts rural areas of the county that don’t have access to cable television, but Berryman said he has fielded static from only about 20 viewers whose TV reception is affected. Most homes probably have cable or satellite TV reception, he theorized.

“The number of people using the translators has decreased significantly in the last five or six years,” he said.

The county’s translator system stretches from Sunlight Mountain outside Glenwood Springs to Red Mountain near Aspen. In all, it has 65 translators that rebroadcast TV programming into the nooks and crannies of the county, where mountainous terrain blocks signals.

The county discovered its unlicensed translators when it hired an engineering consultant to review its system.

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