Shutoff Delay Enacted, But With Conditions

It's official. President Obama has signed Senate Bill S.352 delaying the mandatory full power analog TV shutdown until June 12.

As reported last week, stations desiring to shut off analog service on or before Feb. 17 had to notify the FCC of their intent to shutdown by midnight Monday. Tuesday the FCC issued a list (Public Notice DA 09-211) of 190 stations that either have terminated or will terminate analog before Feb. 17 and 491 stations that notified the FCC on Feb. 9 of their plans to terminate analog operations on Feb. 17. Appendix B lists all full power stations by market, highlights stations shutting off analog on or before Feb. 17 and indicates which stations have volunteered to keep an analog “night light” signal on the air.

The FCC said it reserved the right to limit or reconsider partial waivers of the early termination procedures outlined in its Third Periodic Review Report and Order. It said it would take these actions if—for example—it finds that all or most of the stations in a DMA will be terminating their analog service on Feb. 17, and that the market is one in which many viewers are unprepared for the transition. Stations would need to submit such additional information as necessary to explain/justify why their early shutdown would “advance the public interest.”

The commission indicated that this additional supporting information could include “significant economic, technical, contractual and other business reasons” that would support plans for a Feb. 17 termination, along with enumeration of efforts to protect viewers from disruptions.

Late Wednesday, the FCC released another Public Notice (FCC 09-7) outlining the public interest conditions it required for 123 of the 491 stations that notified the FCC they intended to terminate analog service on Feb. 17. The FCC determined early analog termination by these stations “poses a significant risk of substantial public harm.” These 123 stations must certify they will comply with certain conditions and procedures outlined in the Public Notice by today (Feb. 13) to have their waiver to terminate analog service on Feb. 17 reinstated.

Some of the conditions require these 123 stations make sure that there is at least one station currently providing analog service to their DMAs after Feb. 17. This station would have to provide—at minimum—DTV transition and emergency information, local news and public affairs programming for a period of at least 60 beyond Feb. 17. Stations would be allowed to air commercials on this programming.

This “enhanced” night light service must also provide the DTV transition or emergency information in Spanish and English and must be accessible to the disabled members of the community. This means that silent scrolls or slates are not allowed as they don’t provide information to the visually impaired. This information also has to be closed or open captioned.

The FCC also requires that each stations—individually or collectively—commits to assisting viewers by providing local or toll-free telephone assistance, which includes engineering support. It also requires that each station “alone or together with other stations or local businesses and organizations in the market” provide space and staffing for a viewer “walk-in” center to help consumers apply for converter coupons and obtain converter boxes, and demonstrate how to install converters. These help centers must also provide maps and lists of communities that could be affected by coverage problems. The centers should also serve as a redistribution point for those wanting to donate coupons, converter boxes and television sets for others who may need them.

There are many other conditions. Refer to Public Notice FCC 09-7 for the complete list.

The Public Notice warns: “The FCC reserves the right to take appropriate action against stations that certify they will meet the conditions, fail to do so and nevertheless go off the air on Feb.17, 2009.”