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FCC Puts DTV Stragglers in Penalty Box

The Federal Communications Commission Thursday admonished seven stations for failing to get digital signals up and running and for insufficiently justifying those failures.

But it also gave them another six, closely monitored, months to fix the problems.

If they are not up in six months, they will be fined. After another six months, they lose their digital channel positions and, eventually, their analog channels, as well.

The stations were among a group of 141 that had asked for third extensions of the May 1, 2002, deadline for all commercial stations to be airing digital signals.

FCC chairman Michael Powell emphasized that the commission wanted to be "tough but fair." In that spirit, the "stragglers" got the same six months as did the 104 stations that convinced the FCC that their delays were either unforeseeable or beyond the commission’s control.

The difference is that the seven have now been put in the "penalty phase," as Media Bureau chief Ken Ferree put it.

The other 30 stations that had sought extensions were satellites. The FCC deferred the digital-TV deadline for those until it resolves a separate proceeding.

The commissioners were unanimous in their support of the agency’s action, although Democratic commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein took the opportunity to push for resolving what new public-interest obligations -- if any -- should adhere in the digital world.