In recent weeks, Low Power Television stations have been the center of attention in Washington in connection with the Digital television transition.  While all full-power television stations are set to convert to digital operations less than a year from now, ceasing analog operations at the end of the day on February 17, 2009, there is no specific deadline for LPTV stations to convert to digital.  As the NTIA rolls out its coupon program for the purchase of converter boxes that will take digital signals of over-the-air television stations and convert them to analog for those who do not have digital television receivers (see our summary here), LPTV advocates noted that many converters do not pass through analog signals.  Thus, once a television is hooked up to a converter box, that television will not be able to pick up stations broadcasting in analog – so many unconverted LPTV stations after the conversion date will be denied access to television receivers.

Suggestions have been made that the converter boxes be reconfigured to pass through analog – unlikely as many of the boxes have already been manufactured and are on their way to stores (note that some converters do pass through analog signals, but a consumer needs to look for those boxes).  LPTV advocates have also asked for some form of cable must-carry during the transition process – a proposal sure to be opposed by cable system operators. 


Continue Reading The Trouble With LPTV – No Plan for DTV Transition

The FCC today adopted a Report on its Localism proceeding, accessing the evidence that it gathered in its three year long investigation of whether broadcasters were adequately serving the interests of their local communities.  We wrote long ago about some of the specific issues that the FCC was reviewing in this proceeding – everything from the public interest programming of broadcasters to their music selection process to their response to local emergencies.  Among the report’s conclusions were findings that not all broadcasters were adequately assessing the needs of their communities or serving the public interest through coverage of local news and other local events.  Because of these perceived weaknesses in broadcaster performance, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, much as we expected in our post here, tentatively concluding that re-regulation of the broadcast industry was necessary, bringing back some form of ascertainment and some specific quantifiable requirements for public interest programming

As in the case of the Multiple Ownership order adopted today (summarized here), the full text of the FCC Report and the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has not been released.  Instead, only a short Public Notice, and the statements of the Commissioners at the meeting, are available to determine what was done.  From these notices, it appears that three tentative conclusions were reached.  They are, as follows:

  • More Low Power TV stations should be able to get Class A status, meaning that they are no longer a secondary service that can be "bumped" by a new full power television station or by changes to the facilities of a full-power station
  • Each licensee should be required to establish a community advisory board made up of specific groups of community leaders, with whom the station would meet on a regular basis to assess the needs of the community
  • The FCC’s license renewal standards should contain specific quantitative requirements for public service programming

While these may sound like noble decisions, there are many details and much history that the Commission needs to address before these proposals become final FCC rules.


Continue Reading FCC Adopts Localism Report and Starts Rulemaking to Consider Adopting New Public Interest Obligations for Broadcasters

Late Tuesday night, in a meeting originally scheduled to start at 9:30 in the morning, the FCC adopted an order establishing the rules governing the carriage of broadcast signals by cable operators after the February 17, 2009 transition to digital television.  While the full text of the Commission’s action has not yet been released (and may not be released for quite some time), based on the FCC’s formal news release and the statements made by the commissioners at the meeting and in their accompanying press releases, we can provide the following summary of these important FCC actions.

First, for a period of at least three years after the February 17, 2009 transition from analog to digital broadcasting, cable operators will be required to make the signals of local broadcast stations available to all of their subscribers by either:  (1) carrying the television station’s digital signal in an analog format, or (2) carrying the signal only in digital format, provided that all subscribers have the necessary equipment to view the broadcast content.  This rule reflects a compromise position offered by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and is regarded as less burdensome on cable systems then the FCC’s original proposal of an indefinite analog carriage obligation. 

Second, the FCC reaffirmed its existing requirement that cable systems must carry High Definition (HD) broadcast signals in HD format, and further that it must carry signals with “no material degradation”, i.e., with picture quality as good as any other programming carried by the operator.  In affirming its "no material degradation" standard, the FCC rejected a proposal by the broadcast industry that would have required operators to pass-through all of the bits in digital television broadcast signal.


Continue Reading FCC Adopts Post-Digital Transition “Must-Carry” Rules, Extends Ban on Exclusive Programming Contracts, and Opens Inquiry Into “Tying” Agreements

On Thursday, the FCC issued its Report on violent programming on television, finding that such programming has a negative impact on the well being of children, and suggesting that Congressional action to restrict and regulate such programming would be appropriate.  A summary of the findings of the Commission can be found in our firm’s bulletin on the Report, here.  As we point out in our bulletin, the Commission did not adopt this report with a united voice, as both Commissioner Adelstein and McDowell expressed concerns about the thoroughness of the report, the practicality and constitutionality of drawing lines between permitted and prohibited violence in programming, and even whether the government is the proper forum for restricting access to such programming or whether this isn’t fundamentally an issue of family and parental control. 

The Report suggests that legislative action to restrict violent programming  or to channel it to certain time periods might be appropriate as parents are often not home when children watch television, and technological controls, like the V-Chip, are ineffective as parents don’t know that they exist or, if they are aware of the existence of the controls, they don’t know how to activate them.  The Commission also suggests that the ratings given to programs are not always accurate.  An interesting alternate take can be found in an article in Slate, here, citing a study not mentioned by the FCC finding that parents, even when carefully educated about the V-Chip and its uses, do not use it.  This seems to indicate that parents are not as concerned about the issue as is the FCC, and suggests that the real motivation is not restricting what is presented to children, but instead what is available to adults.


Continue Reading Violence on Television – FCC Issues Report Suggesting That Congressional Action Is Appropriate