FCC sets DTV timetables

Attorney Harry Martin examines the FCC's channel-allotment strategy through 2006, paying attention also to replication/maximization procedures. Other topics include new FCC-approved digital content-sharing devices and December renewal deadlines
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The FCC is moving on the DTV conversion. The agency has imposed a freeze on changes to the TV and DTV Tables of Allotments and, in a related move, has released channel election and replication dates and procedures.

The freeze. As of Aug. 3, 2004, the commission will not permit any changes to stations assigned channels two through 51 on the DTV Table of Allotments. This includes changes requested through a petition for rulemaking or through an application to change a station’s service area beyond that which has previously been authorized in the DTV Table, prior construction permit authorizations and/or applications on file as of Aug. 3, 2004.

Moreover, licensees assigned channels two through 51 on the NTSC Table of Allotments are prohibited from filing petitions to change NTSC channels or communities of license, or filing minor modification applications that would increase the NTSC service area beyond that which has been previously approved or specified in a pending application on file as of Aug. 3, 2004.

The FCC will keep the freeze in place until such time as it has adopted the final DTV Table of Allotments. As matters now stand, this is likely to hap-pen in late 2006.

DTV transition dates. The commission also adopted channel election and replication/maximization procedures, as well as new deadlines for the conversion to DTV facilities. Essentially, the commission has established a three-round channel-election process, preceded by a cleaning up of the commission’s database. The following are the relevant dates:

  • October 2004 — The commission will issue a Table of Station Information that will provide the DTV service populations that will guide the DTV election process.
  • November 2004 — Stations must file a certification that the FCC database is correct, and they must also certify their intent to replicate or maximize on their post-transition channel.
  • December 2004 (round-one elections) — In this first round of channel elections, licensees with two in-core (2-51) channels will elect which channel they will use for permanent DTV operation, and licensees with one in-core channel and one out-of-core channel will elect whether they will use their in-core channels.
  • July 2005 (round-two elections) – In this second round, licensees without a current in-core channel will elect an in-core channel from those remaining after round one.
  • January 2006 (round-three elections) – In this third round, licensees still without an in-core channel (i.e, due to conflicts between elections) will make their final elections.
  • August 2006 – The commission will release the final DTV Table of Allotments for comment.

Replication and maximization deadlines. Generally, the commission will permit each DTV licensee to replicate its current analog service area and to maximize that service area as long as the station’s service area does not exceed that of the station in the market with the largest service area. The anticipated timetable is as follows:

  • July 1, 2005 – Top-four network affiliates in the top 100 markets that tentatively plan to remain on their current digital channels must construct their full authorized facility. Licensees in this category that do not plan to stay on their current digital channels must still provide DTV service to at least 100 percent of the analog population they cover.
  • July 1, 2006 – All other commercial and noncommercial licensees that tentatively plan to remain on their current digital channels must construct their full authorized facilities. Licensees in this category that do not plan to stay on their current digital channels must serve at least 80 percent of the analog population they cover.

Those licensees that intend to move to a new digital channel will be able to carry over their maximized service areas to their new digital channels if they meet the deadlines.

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