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New FCC rules draw on real-world DTV transition experience

The FCC’s extensive Third Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration released March 13 on the rules broadcasters must follow to comply with Congress’s extension of the DTV transition until June 12 reflects lessons learned from the areas where analog switch-off already has occurred, with an intent to make the transition easier on viewers.

The timing of when stations may cease analog transmission, the manner in which they go about it and their network affiliation (or lack thereof) all greatly influenced the rules. The FCC’s new rules require all stations that have not yet transitioned to digital to file an Analog Service Termination Notification form. Those that wish to terminate prior to June 12 cannot choose a date before April 16 — with the exception of certain noncommercial educational stations.

While several broadcasters commenting on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking used to shape the new rules objected to changes being made to the commission’s existing early termination procedures, the commission said it was making the changes “to assure that viewers are fully prepared and equipped to receive digital television signals and give up analog service.”

Based on the experience of early transitions in Wilmington, NC, Hawaii and from the stations that transitioned on the original Feb. 12 DTV transition deadline, the commission learned how important consumer outreach is to success. Based on its own experience and testimony during recent hearings from a variety of sources, including retailers and local and national outreach organizations, the FCC determined that more than 30 days are needed to prepare viewers in a given area for the transition. “Indeed, more than 60 days is preferable,” the commission said. But in an effort to balance adequate time for consumer preparation with the flexibility needed by broadcasters to make the transition, the commission adopted the new procedures. Among them are:

  • Stations choosing to transition before June 12 must run daily viewer notifications for 30 days before ceasing analog transmission.
  • Affiliates of ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC that transition early must certify to the commission that at least one major network affiliate in the market will continue providing full analog service to viewers until June 12 or that viewers will receive enhanced analog nightlight service. They also must operate or support and publicize walk-in help centers and consumer help phone numbers, as well as provide on-air and other DTV education.

Experience gained from the early transition of stations also helped to reshape the DTV viewer education requirements for stations. For stations that have 2 percent or more of their viewers living in their Grade B analog service areas who are likely to lose over-the-air service when the DTV transition is made, new viewer notices are required. Of the 319 stations previously predicted by the commission to experience such service loss, 213 remain on the air in analog. These stations must comply with the new educational requirement.