With February 17 only two days away – when all television stations had planned to be terminating their analog service until Congress passed the extension of the conversion deadline until June 12 – many stations are still planning to convert to fully digital operations on that date. In the last few days, we have seen a flurry of FCC orders about the conversion – including one issued late Friday night modifying requirements that had previously been announced, including the requirement that stations providing analog nightlight service provide emergency information in Spanish. As stations complained that they did not have the ability to translate their emergency information into Spanish, the FCC dropped the requirement (though still requiring information about the DTV transition to be broadcast in English and Spanish, probably assuming that Spanish-language PSAs providing the necessary information can be obtained from the NAB or other broadcast groups). That order also officially extended all digital construction permits that would have otherwise expired on February 17, and extended the conditions that are on many of the permits prohibiting digital operations on their final digital channels until the new transition deadline – unless these stations get explicit permission from the FCC to transition early by showing that they will not cause any interference to other stations when they operate on their new digital channels.
The Commission also has been publishing lists of the stations that had intended to go all-digital by February 17 despite the extension. First, the Commission released a Public Notice of all stations that had initially indicated that they would go silent, with a market-by-market analysis of which stations would go all-digital on February 17 (marked in red) and which would continue in analog. After analyzing that list, the Commission issued another Public Notice, with a list of stations that could not go all-digital without submitting certifications that they would meet certain consumer education requirements after the transition – including having at least one commercial station in a market continuing to broadcast a nightlight service that not only included information about the digital transition, but also news and emergency information, for at least 60 days. the certifications also required having a local call center for those who have questions about the transition, having a walk-in center where people can come for assistance with their digital converters, and otherwise taking steps to publicize the transition. Stations either needed to make these certifications, provide another public interest reason why they had to terminate analog operations on February 17, or agree to continue their analog operations.
Late on Friday, the FCC issued the results of its order – providing lists of stations that have certified that they will meet the conditions and will transition on February 17, the few that have made alternative showings and will await FCC approval before they can make the February 17 transition, and those that have abandoned plans to transition on February 17. In some markets, including Burlington-Plattsburg, Providence, La Crosse, Rockford, Sioux City and Waco, it appears that all or almost all of the commercial stations in the market will go completely digital, but for an analog nightlight station or stations, on February 17. In other markets, including Eugene, Bakersfield, Billings, Mobile and Dayton, it appears that most stations that had been planning to go all digital, will continue their analog operations until a later date.
All these decisions are being made at the last minute, as broadcasters struggle with the their decisions, often having to put aside long-made plans for the transition, or to absorb the additional costs of running two transmitters that had not been budgeted for when the plans for the February 17 analog cut-off seemed certain. The Washington Post this week ran an interesting story, talking about the breakdown in the NTIA coupon program and the lack of communication between the FCC and the NTIA that led to the transition delay. With the Commission seemingly putting the transition on the front burner now (including another meeting focusing on just that issue), the likelihood of the June 12 date holding seems almost assured. Or at least we can all hope that will be the case.