In May, the FCC addressed some practical issues related to the DTV conversion, which is now set for February 2009. Below is a summary of the actions taken.
Digital labeling requirements
To promote awareness of how the DTV transition will affect consumers, the commission adopted a labeling requirement, effective immediately. It requires all new analog-only TV sets to contain a label on the actual product, or positioned next to the product, informing potential purchasers of the limitations of the TV set and how those limitations could affect the product's usefulness. Online marketers must display the same notice next to the image of the TV set.
This action comes as a result of recent studies that indicate more than 60 percent of the public are not aware of the upcoming DTV transition.
Digital signal carriage
The commission is proposing giving cable operators two options:
- Carry the signals of all must-carry stations in an analog format to all analog cable subscribers.
- Carry all-digital system signals only in digital format.
This is, of course, provided that all subscribers have the necessary equipment to view the broadcast content. The goal is to ensure that all cable subscribers have the ability to watch all local must-carry programming.
Additionally, the FCC has reaffirmed that when a broadcast station is transmitting an HD signal, cable systems must carry such signals in HD format without material degradation. The proposal does not address multichannel must-carry of a TV station's multiple DTV channels.
Waiver requests and DTV construction permit extensions
By July 2006, all TV licensees were required to build out digital facilities that serve 80 percent to 100 percent of their analog service areas, depending on the post-transition DTV channel. Licensees that did not meet the deadline faced the possibility of losing considerable interference protection for their permanent facility.
As a result of the deadline, 145 stations filed for construction permit extensions (to construct even the basic facility), and 192 stations filed for interference protection deadline waivers. The commission set new deadlines or, in some cases, fashioned broad relief for those stations still not in compliance with the requirement.
More than 60 percent of the parties received extensions until Nov. 18, 2007. The affected stations include those that claimed equipment delays, financial problems or other circumstances beyond their control had prevented them from meeting the earlier construction deadlines.
In these cases, the affected stations must construct their full digital facility, or they must complete construction if they are operating with less than full facilities. Other stations, for example those assigned one digital channel for the pretransition period and another for post-transition, received a temporary reprieve from constructing their DTV facilities twice.
The steps up to the DTV transition
In a new rulemaking proceeding, the FCC asks what practical steps it will have to take to assure that all full-power stations are operating digitally by Feb. 17, 2009.
One proposal suggests that every TV broadcaster file a report (new Form 387) with the commission providing a snapshot of where the station is in relation to the completion of its digital facility and what steps still need to be taken.
The proceeding includes a table listing 752 stations that are ready to operate with their licensed post-transition DTV facilities. The commission asked the listed stations to advise the agency if they are not ready to operate their DTV facilities.
The proceeding also addresses the issue of permitting stations with different pre- and post-transitional DTV channels to construct only on the post-transition channel.
The commission has also proposed to adopt a 0.5 percent interference standard for all maximization and new allotment requests in the post-transition world. Previously, the commission permitted a proposed modification or allotment to cause up to 2 percent interference, but now it intends to tighten the interference protection rights.
Harry C. Martin is a past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth PLC.
- TV stations in Illinois and Wisconsin must file their biennial ownership reports by August 1.
- By August 1, TV stations, including Class A stations, in the following states must place their annual EEO reports in their public files and post them on their Web sites: California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin.
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