Many television stations are making the conversion to all-digital operations today (see our post here for details). These stations should remember that the DTV Consumer Education efforts that are currently in place apply to both the analog channel and the primary digital channel, and thus will continue after the conversion. Based on the current rules,
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.
This week, an agreement by Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the ranking minority member on the Senate Commerce Committee, to an extension of the DTV transition deadline from February 17 until June 12, was announced. The delay has been requested so that issues about the distribution of the $40 government coupons to consumers to ease their purchase of converters to allow analog TVs to pick up digital signals so that they will continue to work after the transition date can be resolved; and so that there can be more targeted information about the transition delivered to groups that many feel may not have received the message about the transition. But Congressional Republicans have thus far blocked attempts by the Obama administration to delay the transition, so this agreement by Senator Hutchinson is viewed as a sign that the extension may very well be approved in the near term. As the transition deadline is only weeks away, if Congress is going to act, it needs to do so immediately, or the effect of any delay will be negligible as the transition will have, for all practical purposes, already occurred.
Most broadcast stations have made plans for the transition – ordering the equipment, scheduling tower crews, coordinating the changes in frequencies with other stations in the same region that may be necessary to accommodate the digital operations. In some cases, stations have already ceasing their analog broadcasting so that the new equipment necessary to accomplish the transition can be installed, or because these stations will be operating digitally on their analog frequency and have had to allow a tower crew or other engineering support to conduct the work necessary to allow the digital operations on the final channel to occur before the February deadline dates. Given the limited number of such crews, not all of these final changes could happen on a single date, so stations have been changing to all digital operations now as the final date approaches. Without Congressional action very soon, the transition will have, for the most part, already occurred.
The FCC last week issued a decision that should make Buyers think twice in determining how sales of broadcast stations are concluded – especially in the days of $325,000 potential fines for indecency violations. In the case decided last week, the Commission concluded that the licensee of a broadcast station was liable for fines for violations…