FCC Also Initiates Analog Shutdown Field Tests…

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin this week agreed to organize a dry run of the analog TV shutdown. He took the step at the behest of Commissioner Michael Copps, who publicly urged the chairman to initiate field tests in advance of the real deal.

“Real-world experience is an extremely important step… in order to minimize consumer disruption on Feb. 17, 2009,” he wrote in a letter to Martin.

Copps suggested shutting down analog TV in “a small number of markets” ahead of the transition date, to see what happens. He also noted that while other countries are phasing in DTV regionally, the United States alone plans a zero-hour nationwide shutdown.

“Our single transition date does not afford us the luxury of a built-in learning curve,” he wrote. “We have one chance to get this right.”

A recent study casting doubt on DTV reception was part of what motivated Copps to call for field tests. Centris, a New York research firm, issued a report (disputed by the Maximum Service TV Association) stating that DTV coverage grew dodgey at the 35-mile radius mark.

Martin responded to Copps with a letter of his own, saying field tests were a capital idea, and that he would ask the agency’s DTV Task Force to coordinate a dry run with broadcasters and other affected parties.

In other FCC news, the commission issued its final DTV Table of Allotments, determining DTV channel assignments for remaining stations that may have had interference or other conflicts, such as zoning permits for towers. The order dealt with 124 petitions representing 221 requests for action on individual stations.

An order on consumer DTV education was also issued this week. It give commercial stations options regarding air time for public service announcements, either to run them with greater frequency as the Feb. 17, 2009 deadline approaches, or do an average of 16 PSAs and crawls per week as proposed by the National Association of Broadcasters. Public stations have a time requirement of 60 seconds per day, at certain times of day.

The comment period on the localism docket, No. 04-233, has been extended to April 28, with replies due June 11. The docket is at the proposal stage, with the FCC mulling increased requirements for local programming and content. The NAB has issued a “
call to action”
for its members to file comments on what they’re already doing with regard to localism, from issuing Amber Alerts to doing charity work. The FCC’s comment filing interface is available