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FCC Pushes DTV Rule Changes

A raft of digital-TV rule changes and initiatives aimed at speeding the transition from analog were kicked off by the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday.

Tops among broadcasters' wish-list was a channel "repacking" plan requiring stations to pick their final DTV channel in three stages, beginning in November 2004.

The plan is adapted from a version proposed by DTV trade group MSTV. Repacking channel assignments is necessary because channels 52-69 are being grabbed by the government for other uses.

The amount of spectrum dedicated to TV is declining by 18 channels in every market. Stations that don't yet have a digital channel in the 2-51 core must find room before losing their analog  versions.

The first round of DTV musical chairs begins in December, when stations with both their analog and digital assignments in the 2-51 core must declare which of the two they will keep. Stations with one channel in the core also decide whether they want to keep that channel as their digital allotment.

The second round begins July 2005, when stations without any in-core assignment pick from those available. The final round begins January 2006 when stations with no assigned digital channel, or those assigned 2 though 6, may pick another from those remaining. Between each round, stations with signal conflicts with other stations must decide whether to remain on their current assignments and accept the interference or elect a new channel in the next round. 

Other steps the FCC took include:

      ·Requiring  digital stations to  encode programming to activate closed captioning, v-chip and channel numbering functions
      ·Eliminating, for now, the requirement  that stations simulcast their analog programming on one digital channel .
      ·Mandating that  DTV sets provide V-Chip style channel blocking functions within 18  months.
      ·Allowing stations to fill DTV signal coverage gaps with cell phone-like transmitters disbursed throughout their markets.