DTV status update

In June, the FCC moved towards completion of Round One of the DTV channel election process by approving 25 negotiated channel agreements, rejecting 12 and sending more than 150 letters to stations whose channel elections would result in impermissible interference. The recipients of those letters were given 60 days to notify the FCC on how the interference conflict will be resolved.

The FCC also issued tentative DTV channel designations for 1554 stations participating in the first round of channel elections. The commission currently expects to wrap up Round One this summer, clearing the way for Round Two elections in the fall, possibly as early as September. The FCC's ultimate goal is to issue a new DTV Table of Allotments by August 2006.

On July 1, DTV station identification requirements took effect. DTV stations must now comply with the longstanding station ID rules. DTV station IDs must include the station's call letters followed by the community or communities specified in the station's license. Stations can insert the frequency, channel number, name of the licensee and/or name of the network between the call letters and community of license. Also, stations that are multicasting may include additional information identifying each program stream.

Meanwhile, use-it-or-lose-it deadlines for replication/maximization of DTV service areas are already upon some stations and fast approaching others. By July 1, affiliates of the top-four commercial networks (i.e., ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) in markets 1 to 100 were required to be operating with full facilities, meaning that:

  • Where the station is currently operating on its tentative DTV channel designation, the station must construct full authorized facilities.
  • Where the tentative DTV channel designation is not the station's current DTV channel, the station must serve at least the number of viewers served by the 1997 facility on which their replication coverage was based. The same use-it-or-lose-it obligations will apply to all other commercial and noncommercial TV stations as of July 1, 2006.

The penalty for falling short of the use-it-or-lose-it requirement is loss of interference protection to the portion of the relevant service area that is unused as of the applicable deadline. Moreover, a station falling short of the full build-out requirement will not be able to carry over interference protection on its post-transition channel to DTV service areas not served. While these deadlines may be waived, the commission has cautioned that waivers will be granted only in “unusual and limited circumstances.”

DTV receiver deadlines moved up

In June, the commission refused to eliminate its deadlines for manufacturers of TV receivers to include DTV tuners. Those deadlines were:

  • July 1, 2005: 50 percent of the television sets manufactured and imported into the United States with screen sizes of 25in to 26in must include a digital television tuner.
  • July 1, 2006: 100 percent of such TV sets must have a DTV tuner.

The FCC retained the 50 percent deadline of July 1 and advanced the 100 percent deadline for 25in to 36in TV sets from July 1, 2006, to March 1, 2006. In addition, the FCC issued a further request for comment on whether the deadline for all television sets with screen sizes 13in or larger should be moved forward from July 1, 2007, to no later than December 31, 2006. At the same time, there is movement in both houses of Congress to advance the July 1, 2007, deadline.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Consumer Electronics Retailers Association (CERA) filed a request to delay these deadlines. According to CEA and CERA, the FCC's requirement has resulted in the hoarding of non-DTV sets by retailers and has served to impede the rollout of digital service. To resolve this problem, CEA and CERA suggested that the commission eliminate the 50 percent requirement and establish March 1, 2006, as the deadline for 100 percent of these TV sets to have a DTV tuner. The FCC rejected these pleas.

Harry C. Martin is the immediate-past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth.

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October 1 is the filing deadline for renewal applications for TV, LPTV, Class A TV and TV translator stations in Iowa and Missouri. The renewal applications (Forms 303-S) must be accompanied by biennial ownership reports (Forms 323) and EEO program reports (Forms 396).

October 1 is also the start date for renewal pre-filing announcements for TV stations (not LPTV, Class A or translators) in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, in anticipation of a renewal application filing date of December 1.