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Wilmington: NAB Seeks Answers

The National Association of Broadcasters took the opportunity of the Federal Communications Commission's Wilmington, N.C., test of the analog-TV cutoff to advise the FCC on what answers it should be looking for from the test.

The FCC worked with individual stations, rather than the NAB, on setting up the test, but the association said it will work with its stations and the government "as they move forward with this initiative."

That initiative is the Sept. 8 termination of analog broadcasts from the Big Four network affiliates in the market, plus an affiliate of Trinity Broadcasting Network, which volunteered to be digital-TV guinea pigs after the FCC reached out to stations for volunteers.

Saying that the test results need to be evaluated to see "how or whether" they can be applied generally, the NAB said in a statement that the test should answer the following questions:

• "What is the coordination plan between the federal, state and local governments to distribute information about the Sept. 8 experimental analog shutoff?”

• "How will the government ensure retailer coordination so that enough coupon-certified converter boxes will be available given the increased demand of the early shutoff date?”

• "In particular, what specific actions will the government take to ensure that retailers have “analog pass-through” converter boxes available, given the low-power television stations in the Wilmington market, including one major network affiliate?

• "How will the government prioritize converter box coupon application requests originating from the WilmingtonDMA, given the current national backlog of coupon requests?

•"What action will the government take to ensure that national messaging or messaging from bordering markets about the February 17, 2009 transition date does not result in confusion in the Wilmington DMA?

• "How will the government ensure that satellite operators accelerate their coordination schedule? 

• "How will the government ensure that cable operators serving the Wilmington market are prepared to coordinate in early analog shut-off and have they made plans to ensure viewability to analog television subscribers?"

That last question is related to the fact that the FCC's new rules requiring cable operators to deliver a viewable signal of all must-carry TV stations does not kick in until Feb. 18, 2009. That's when all full-power TVs must be broadcasting in digital and cable operators with analog customers must convert that signal to analog. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has said the he expected the FCC would take steps to make sure the local TV stations were not penalized for making the switch early, but he also said he expected cable operators would cooperate.

John Eggerton
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.