The full commission recently granted additional third-time extensions to complete construction of digital television facilities to a group of 104 stations, while it denied extensions to seven others and deferred any decision with regard to 30 TV satellite stations.
The commission accepted a variety of justifications for the requested extensions. They included adverse weather, unexpected equipment failures, delay or failure in delivery of equipment, and natural disasters. Some stations claimed they faced difficulties in obtaining necessary local, state or federal approvals needed for the construction of new towers, although the stations involved have diligently sought to overcome those obstacles. Other stations were said to be awaiting commission action on modification applications, channel change rule-making proceedings, special temporary authorization (STA) requests, or assignment applications. Further extensions were granted to another group of stations due to ongoing financial difficulties, which the stations said they were working to resolve. Some group owners had proposed, among other plans, a staggered timetable for completing construction of their multiple stations.
Thirty other stations that operate as “satellites” had their construction deadlines deferred pending the resolution of a rule-making proceeding to determine whether such stations should be allowed to turn in their digital authorizations, forego simulcasting, and simply make a “flashcut” switch to DTV at the end of the transition period.
Seven stations had their extension requests denied. The common thread leading to denial was the commission's conclusion that these stations had not taken sufficient actions during the most recent extension period or had not provided any new reasons to justify further delay. The good news for stations in this group, however, is that they were nonetheless given a final six months to finish DTV construction. The stations were admonished, and they must submit periodic progress reports to the commission. These stations also face the threat of additional sanctions if they fail to submit the required reports, if the commission determines that they were acting in bad faith, or if they fail to commence DTV operation within six months.
All-digital TV tuner rule upheld
All TV sets sold in the United States must include DTV tuners by 2007. That's the final word from the U.S. Court of Appeals, which denied an appeal from makers of TV sets, VCRs and DVD players, all of whom sought to block the FCC's 2007 deadline.
The consumer equipment manufacturers argued that most people do not want or need digital tuners because they get a full panoply of digital features through their cable or satellite providers' set-top boxes. But the court found the FCC had legal authority to impose the deadline on manufacturers. The commission wanted consumers to be able to plug in and immediately use a new TV to receive free over-the-air broadcasts. Without a built-in digital tuner, consumers would have to buy an external decoder if they lacked cable or DBS service.
The commission is phasing in digital-ready requirements. Beginning next year, half of all big-screen TVs larger than 36 inches must have digital capacity. By July 2007, all sets 13 inches or larger, as well as VCRs and DVD players, also must be DTV-ready. Pocket-sized or wristwatch TVs will not be required to have digital tuners — although those that do not come so equipped will require external digital decoders to receive increasingly prevalent DTV broadcasts.
Harry C. Martin is an attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth PLC, Arlington, VA.
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TV stations in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia must begin their pre-filing renewal announcements on April 1, 2004, in preparation for filing their renewal applications on June 1, 2004. Also on April 1, stations in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas must place their annual EEO reports in their public files.