FCC active on the DTV front

While much attention has been paid in recent weeks to Congressional efforts to set a firm date for the DTV transition, the FCC has been busy with its own initiatives aimed at keeping the DTV clock moving
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While much attention has been paid in recent weeks to Congressional efforts to set a firm date for the DTV transition, the FCC has been busy with its own initiatives aimed at keeping the DTV clock moving.

Channel election deadlines

The commission released the results from the first round of channel elections and set Oct. 31, 2005, as the deadline for the second-round elections. (The second-round deadline was extended from Oct. 24 to Oct. 31 at the request of the AFCCE to accommodate some last-minute channel accommodations.) Licensees who did not participate in the first round — either because they lacked an in-core channel or because their proposed channel caused impermissible interference with other channel elections — were required to make a selection by Oct. 31 or wait for the third round of elections, which is expected to take place in early 2006.

LPTV, TV translator filings

The commission released a public notice that allows LPTV and TV translator licensees to immediately file applications to convert their in-core analog facilities to digital facilities. Class A LPTV licensees have filed such applications for some time.

For these three groups, there is obviously a downside to digital-only operation. In filing an application to convert to digital operations on its current channel, they will give up their right to file for a companion channel in the future.

The FCC previously adopted rules that will permit LPTV, TV translator and Class A stations to select an available digital channel to operate in conjunction with their analog facility once the DTV channel election process is almost completed. A filing window for companion channels might be opened in early 2006.

For this reason and because the DTV hard conversion date is still three years off, only a handful of licensees have converted. But filing now will result in the issuance of a construction permit, perhaps at a new site that will be good for three years. Such a permit, even if it is not immediately implemented, would lock in the station's right to a digital in-core channel.

Digital-only request

The FCC recently released an order granting a request by a full-power television station to cease operating its analog facility and to operate only as a digital station on its digital channel. A television station in Riverdale, NY, received two out-of-core channels. It sought authorization to turn off its analog facility and agreed to broadcast only in the digital mode.

While it was the only television station licensed to Riverdale, the commission reasoned that any adverse impact on the viewing public would be minimal because the area had more than 92 percent cable penetration. Moreover, the licensee agreed to provide cable systems the equipment necessary to downconvert the digital signal to analog for carriage of the station on their systems.

The licensee mentioned the support given by the company planning to use the 700MHz spectrum being vacated when the analog station is turned off. The commission agreed that these factors weighed in support of the request and granted authorization to terminate its analog service.

The second round of channel assignments should conclude by the end of the year. At that point, the FCC may open a window for filing of companion DTV channel requests by LPTV, TV translator and Class A licensees. This, coupled with adoption of a hard transition date in 2009, will launch us into a new DTV year in which TV licensees will need to be even more vigilant.

Harry C. Martin is the immediate-past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth.

Dateline

Feb. 1, 2006, is the date by which TV, TV translator, LPTV and Class A TV stations in the following states must file their 2006 license renewal applications: Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. TV stations in those states must also file biennial ownership reports and EEO program reports on Feb. 1 with their renewals.

Feb. 1 is the date that TV stations in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee must begin their pre-filing renewal announcements in anticipation of filing their renewals on April 1.

Feb. 1 is the deadline for TV stations in the following states to place their EEO public file reports in their public files and post them on their Web sites: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma.

The start date for on-air labeling of core educational and informational programming with the logo “E/I” was stated in last month's column as Sept. 19, 2006. The correct date is Sept. 19, 2005.

Send questions and comments to:harry_martin@primediabusiness.com