Broadcasters Seek Leniency for 'Satellite' Stations

The NAB and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) have asked the FCC to cut some slack for some of the nation's smallest stations that might be having a tough time completing their digital television buildouts.

More than 70 stations received letters of admonishment from the FCC for failing to provide good reasons for missing their May 1 deadline to begin broadcasting digital signals.

The broadcaster groups say that small-market "satellite" stations, which repeat other stations' signals much like a translator, should enjoy some flexibility from the FCC's graduated schedule of penalties, which ranges from warnings to increased reporting requirements to possible loss of DTV licenses.

"The commission should carefully evaluate [stations '] specific circumstances before invoking sanctions," the groups wrote. "Only where there has been no meaningful effort to get on the air in DTV or plan to do so should the commission begin the sanction process."

Giving the small stations some leeway will not hinder the digital transition, the groups said.

A few individual stations have objected to the commission's entire scheme of extensions and sanctions, and Paxson Communications Corp., which owns 55 stations, echoed the NAB and MSTV comments with a similar plea for leniency in some cases.

"Most stations should not be punished using the mechanisms proposed [by the commission]," lawyers for Paxson wrote. "Instead, those procedures should be used to punish only the most inexcusable cases of construction delay."

The New Life Evangelistic Center, a Missouri Church that owns two stations, also attacked the punishment plan.

"Other than the commission's obsession with completing the digital conversion process now rather than later, there is no legal or practical reason to be concerned with its accomplishment earlier than 2006," the church wrote. "For the commission, broadcasters are the most convenient target and the one in the crosshairs for implementation of the 'build it and they will come' philosophy driving the digital conversion."