The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Digital Fill-In Translators, to provide television service in areas where a television station’s digital signal does not reach locations that were covered by its analog operations (a proposal we summarized here) was published in the Federal Register today, setting comment dates on this proposal. Comments are due on January 12, and Replies on January 22. As the Commission has already published instructions for filing for temporary authority to operate these stations, broadcasters who are interested in the final rules that may be adopted should look to file comments on these matters before the January 12 deadline. This is another proceeding that is being rushed through the Commission in anticipation of the February 17 end of the digital television transition.
The analog nightlight proceeding is on an even faster track, with comments due on Monday (see our summary of that proceeding here). The Commission has just released a tentative agenda for its January 15 meeting, where the only item it will consider (other than reports from the Commission’s various Bureau Chiefs) will be the analog nightlight proposal. This is likely to be Chairman Martin’s last meeting as chair of the FCC. In light of the Congressional mandate to complete this proceeding by January 15, the Commission will have received comments and replies and digested them into a decision – all in the space of 20 days from the release of its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – with the Christmas and New Years holidays intervening! If anything, this shows two things – that the FCC can move rapidly if it has to, and that the DTV transition is the one and only real priority on the full Commission’s agenda right now.
Clearly, with this attention, it is imperative that broadcasters get it right and complete the transition on time and with as minimal disruption as possible, even though the government has not made it easy with all these last minute fixes only being offered in the last few months. In addition to the digital fill-in translators and the analog nightlight, the Distributed Transmission Service order, authorizing what are effectively on-channel boosters, was just approved two months ago, after languishing at the FCC for several years. All three of these proposals would have been much easier to implement had broadcasters been given more time to plan for their implementation and to budget for their costs. But, as the FCC and Congress (which only a little more than a month ago approved the analog nightlight operations) seem as rushed to finish transition business as are some broadcasters, television operators will have to make due with what they have already planned, and make their listeners aware of those plans, between now and February 17. As the transition will set the tone for the broadcasters dealings with the new Obama administration at the FCC, broadcasters cannot afford to get it wrong.