Congress recently passed legislation authorizing an analog "nightlight" or lifeline for those left behind after the digital transition.  This law was designed to allow certain full-power stations to remain operating in analog on February 18, with information about the digital transition for those people who otherwise managed to miss the information about that deadline.  This past week, while Santa was making his deliveries, the FCC released its proposals for implementing this authorization.  The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking sets out a list of stations that can take advantage of the authorization automatically, and the process for other stations being able to operate such a service.  In addition, the Notice proposes restrictions on the nightlight operation, the length of service, and miscellaneous other matters.  Given the tight timeframe before implementation on the end date of the digital transition, comments on the FCC’s proposals will be due 5 days after they are published in the Federal Register, and replies 3 days later.

The proposals include the following:

  • Analog operation would be permitted by authorized stations for only 30 days after the end of the digital transition, through the end of the day on March 19, 2009.
  • The nightlight service can only include information about local emergencies, and information about how viewers can get digital television services.  The information about how to get digital services should be in English and Spanish, and accessible to those with disabilities.  No advertising will be permitted.
  • The Commission attached to its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking a list of eligible stations .  Such stations, if they are interested in participating, need to electronically file by February 10 a request for Special Temporary Authority to operate the nightlight .  No filing fee will be required.
  • Stations not listed may still participate by demonstrating how they will protect all digital operations, through lower power, terrain shielding, directional antennas or similar techniques.  Comments showing how they will participate should be filed in the comment period for the NPRM.
  • The nightlight service will not be entitled to mandatory cable carriage.

Not all markets will have a nightlight service – at least using the Commission’s initial proposals.  The list of markets that will receive such service is available here.  The markets where no service is currently available are markets where all stations in that market would interfere with some station’s digital operations were they to continue to operate their analog facilities after the transition deadline.  But, as stated above, it may be possible, through reduced power operations or in some other fashion, for at least some stations in these markets to provide some sort of post-transition analog service.

The Commission is looking for comments on the details of all of these proposals, including the details of what information the nightlight stations should provide, as well as the interference standards proposed by the Commission.  Parties with ideas about these issues should quickly prepare to file comments in this important proceeding so that service can be provided to those left out by the conversion of television stations from analog to digital on February 17.