FCC Unveils Plans For Second Wave Of DTV Transitions

The FCC late Friday released its second order implementing the DTV date delay bill. That included changing all the relevant Feb. 17, 2009 dates to June 12, but it also contained various modifications and additions to handle the second wave of analog shut-offs, including the tentative conclusion--in a separate notice of proposed rulemaking on which there will be a brief comment period--that stations should not pull the plug earlier than April 16.

There are many more dates: March 17 (St. Patrick's Day) is the date by which all broadcasters must inform the FCC of when they do plan to pull the plug on analog if it is before June 12. Anyone who doesn't will be assumed to be going June 12 and won't be able to pull the plug earlier (absent a disaster or unforeseeable emergency). The commission said that date certain was only fair given that cable operators, satellite carriers, broadcasters and tower crews will need that certainty.

April 16 is the deadline for filing updated DTV Transition Status Reports that outline those transition plans.
The FCC also sought comment on a plan for stations that want to go before June 12 (but after March 14, which is the earliest the second wave of plug-pulls can resume). It promised to release an order on those proposals by March 13 (yet another Friday the 13th) and suggested that any stations that do want to go before June 12 provide a proposed date in their comments, and explain why they need or want to go early.

Among the other changes in the order are extending the DTV education deadline for cable, satellite and telco video services to the end of the second calendar quarter, and expanded them to require notices--in bill stuffers, for example--to include contact info for the FCC call center, coupon box program, and the suggestion that they contact their local TV station for more information. Those multichannel video providers have until April 1 (April Fool's Day) to modify their information.

Broadcasters also must continue to air DTV transition information, revising it to reflect that the deadline has been extended to June 12, but that many stations have already transitioned (641 stations to be exact) and more may before that June 12 date.

Broadcasters who have not transitioned and must reset their countdown clocks beginning 100 days out, Which is March 4 (there's another deadline).

The Winners of the analog spectrum being reclaimed after the transition will get another 116 days to meet construction benchmarks.

Not surprisingly, the FCC moved the Analog Nightlight Act to the June 12 deadline, which allows stations to keep an analog signal on for another 30 says past that deadline with DTV transition and potentially emergency information. The programming can have no ads, but can carry sponsorship credits similar to those on noncommercial stations. That is in contrast to the enhanced nightlight service being provided by at least one station in at-risk DTV markets where the rest of the network affiliates transitioned Feb. 17. That service must include news and public affairs programing as well, can contain ads, and must run for 60 days past the Feb. 17 deadline.

But the FCC also tentatively concluded that it didn't want all the affiliates in a market to pull the plug before June 12, essentially proposing to extend its enhanced analog nightlight requirements through the new hard date.
The first order, which came only four days before the Feb. 17 date (Friday the 13th) had no comment period due to time constraints. That was something of an irony from a commission led by a critic of the lack of sufficient public comment on FCC decisions.

In this case, there will be time for comment, but only five days, rather than the usual 30. It will also be a one-round cycle rather than comments followed by replies.

In addition to the order, the FCC also sought comment on whether it should require viewers of possible service loss, the need for rescanning channels by DTV sets and converter boxes.

The order is online at fcc.gov.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.