FCC Releases Final DTV Transition Rules

The FCC issued its final rules for the DTV transition on New Year's Eve. The 154-page order came out just hours before the end of 2007. The Third Periodic Review of the Commission's Rules and Policies Affecting the Conversion to Digital Television outlines what the nation's 1,800-plus TV stations must do by Feb. 17, 2009, when over-the-air analog transmissions cease.

"One year earlier would have been the charm," Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps said in a prepared statement. "Pulling the switch on stations all across the land at one and the same time in February 2009 is going to be a real throw of the dice."

Copps it was "unfathomable" to turn off every full-power analog signal in the country on a single day without running at least one test market first.

About 800 stations have completed construction on their post-transition DTV facilities. The remaining 1,000 or so have more work ahead.

A total of 1,812 stations have post-transition DTV channels, according to the Third Periodic; 1,178 stations will stay on their DTV channel assignment and 634 will move'517 from a temporary digital assignment to their existing analog channel; and 117 to a new digital channel assignment. Post-transition channels have been proposed for another 13 stations that became eligible after the channel-election process of the past three years.

Stations will be subject to the following deadlines in the Third Periodic
Feb. 18, 2008:
--Full-power stations must file a transition status report.
May 18, 2008:
--Construction deadline for stations staying on current digital channels with construction permits that match the channel assignment.
Aug. 18, 2008:
--Construction deadline for stations staying on current digital channels with construction permits that do not match the channel assignment.
--FCC will lift the freeze on maximization applications.
Oct. 20, 2008:
--Stations must update transition status reports if construction is not completed.
Nov. 19, 2008:
--Stations can power down analog signals if the FCC agrees it's necessary to complete the post-transition facility.
Feb. 17, 2009: The analog sunset date is also the construction deadline for'
--Stations building facilities for new digital channel allotments or moving to their analog assignments. (Partially built facilities on temporary digital assignments will not have to be completed.)
--Stations staying on their original digital channel that may have to move or reposition antennas.

The status reports due in February will require broadcasters to describe any additional steps necessary to meet applicable deadlines, and a timeline for when those steps will take place. (Form 387--not yet available on the forms page.)Broadcasters will be responsible for keeping the reports current.

"Whenever the information furnished in their form is no longer substantially accurate and complete in all significant respects, the station must file an updated form as promptly as possible and in any event within 30 days to furnish such additional or corrected information as is appropriate," the rules state.
After the rules were proposed last May, many comments objected to the construction deadlines since Congress required only that broadcasters transmit a digital signal within the core spectrum. The FCC rejected the argument, citing a need to ensure continued television service to the 15.2 million households relying exclusively on over-the-air television (according to a Nielsen estimate). The commission also allowed, however, that some disruption to analog service would be likely, depending on a station's post-transition channel assignment.

One example involves about 200 stations that requested schedule flexibility to modify existing analog antennas for digital transmission. The Media Bureau has been charged with dispensing the requests.

At the same time, the commission tightened up the conditions for stations that can't complete facilities by the final 2009 deadline. "Absent extraordinary circumstances," not having the necessary equipment won't cut it. The existing four-part rule for determining financial hardship was eliminated, replaced by proof of bankruptcy or "negative cash flow for the past three years."

Requests for extensions beyond the final deadline must be received 60 days prior to it, Dec. 20, 2008.