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Community Broadcasters: Don’t Mislead Viewers on Analog Shutoff

With much of Washington raising the alarm that citizens will awake on Feb. 18. 2009, to darkened analog TV sets, the low-power and Class A television industry has a message for the FCC—not so fast.

The Community Broadcasters Association has warned the FCC that some industry efforts could provide information that’s just plain wrong and could drive customers away from their stations, possibly even killing the low-power industry.

One key point: Analog broadcasts from low-power and Class A stations will remain on the air after full-power stations end their analog in February 2009.

“It must be remembered that only some 1,756 TV stations will shut down analog operations on February 17, 2009, while more than four times that many stations—2,794 Class A and LPTV stations and 4,518 TV Translator stations—will not have to shut down analog on that date,” the CBA wrote Sept. 17 (emphasis CBA’s). “Thus it is simply not true that analog over-the-air television service will no longer be available... and for the commission to advertise otherwise may well undermine the public’s confidence in the agencies pronouncements.”

What’s worse, some other efforts—CBA doesn’t explicitly mention the cable industry’s $200 million educational campaign—could wrongly drive over-the-air viewers into cable and satellite packages that in some cases are not even required to carry the very stations the viewers sought to continue viewing.

“If the commission requires TV broadcasters and multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) to run public service announcements, provide bill inserts, and take other steps to inform the public that over-the-air analog broadcasting will no longer be available after February 17, 2009, that information will be inaccurate and misleading,” CBA wrote. “The adverse impact... will be compounded if viewers become fearful of not being able to deal with converter boxes for over-the-air reception and are driven to subscribe to cable TV or satellite services.”

In comments on DTV educational efforts, industry interests from RadioShack to the cable lobby to the NAB have also pleaded with the FCC in recent weeks to avoid any educational mandates such as PSAs, text scrolls, or bill inserts.

The pleadings come just before two government events on the DTV transition. Tuesday, Sept. 25, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is charged with administering the $1.5 billion converter box coupon program, will hold a “DTV Transition Expo” at the U.S. Department of Commerce headquarters, while the FCC will hold an event on Tues., Sept. 26.