DTV transition schedule set

A description of portions of the Transition Order and the important upcoming deadlines
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The deadline for filing FCC Form 381, the Pre-Election Certification Form, was Nov. 5. That was the first step in the DTV conversion plan outlined in the FCC's September DTV Transition Order. This article describes portions of the Transition Order and the important upcoming deadlines.

The commission will require broadcasters to fully implement the Program System and Informational Protocol (PSIP) by Feb. 1, 2005. PSIP is data transmitted with the digital signal that provides the DTV receiver with information about the number of channels being broadcast and the programming on each channel. Also, PSIP transmits the content advisories necessary for the use of the V-chip and to make viewers aware of programming ratings.

For licensees affiliated with the top four networks, which are assigned to the top 100 television markets, permanent, full-power DTV facilities must be operational by July 1, 2005. Those licensees that will be operating DTV facilities on channels other than their originally assigned DTV channels will be required to provide service to at least 100 percent of the viewers specified as receiving NTSC service in the 1997 DTV Table of Allotments. Top 100 network stations not built out by July 1 will lose interference protection beyond their then-current DTV facilities.

All other commercial and noncommercial stations have one additional year — until July 1, 2006 — to complete DTV construction. Those licensees that will not operate on their current digital channels will be required to serve 80 percent of the number of NTSC viewers specified as receiving service in the 1997 DTV Table of Allotments. (While financial hardship waivers will be considered, they will require strong supporting evidence and will undergo strict scrutiny.)

To the extent that viewer numbers come into play, the commission will update the population figures with 2000 census information, but will base the “population served” figures on the facility specified in the 1997 DTV Table of Allotments.

The commission will apply the channel election and build-out requirements to satellite stations. In addition, those licensees with blocked DTV construction permit applications, either due to international concerns or pending maximization applications, will be required to file a checklist application and construct their replication facilities by Aug. 4, 2005. Those licensees will not lose the right to prosecute their pending applications, and the commission will permit licensees to request permission to construct non-checklist facilities by the Aug. 4, 2005, deadline.

The commission eliminated the requirement that licensees air the same programming on their DTV channel as on their NTSC channel. It reasoned that such requirements might impede the development of new digital programming.

The commission adopted requirements that licensees follow the same station ID rules for their DTV station as are applicable to the NTSC station. This information will be included in the PSIP data that is transmitted with the DTV signal.

The commission acknowledged the support of parties for developing rules to permit licensees to place synchronized transmitters throughout their service area to fill in gaps and for more efficient use of the spectrum. The agency also pledged to open a separate fast-track proceeding to address this matter, and directed the staff to adopt conservative standards to process requests on a case-by-case basis in the meantime.

Harry C. Martin is president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth PLC, Arlington, VA.

Send questions and comments to:harry_martin@primediabusiness.com

Dateline

Television stations in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi must file their renewal applications, biennial ownership reports and EEO program reports on or before Feb. 1, 2005.

Feb. 1, 2005, is the start date for pre-filing renewal announcements for TV stations in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Feb. 1, 2005, also is the deadline for DTV stations to fully implement PSIP (see text above).