The FCC has released a Public Notice reminding TV stations to update their FCC Form 387 DTV Transition Status Reports by October 20, 2008.  If you will recall, these Reports were filed by stations earlier this year (and updated in July) outlining the steps remaining for the stations to complete the transition to DTV.

As we’re

 As the digital television transition continues to progress, the FCC has been pursuing not only broadcasters who have been slow in building out their digital facilities, but also consumer electronic manufacturers who have not done enough to facilitate the transition. In a letter released this week, Chairman Martin has by letter urged consumer electronics retailers to stock inexpensive converter boxes that will pick up digital signals and allow analog television sets to broadcast those signals, keeping those sets from becoming obsolete. Also, the FCC recently entered into a consent decree agreeing to a fine for Sling Media for not including a digital television tuner in some of its equipment, reminding all consumer electronics manufacturers, including those who install them as an adjunct to their technology, of the need to include such tuners in their equipment.

The issue of the digital converter boxes is an interesting one. When NTIA started issuing coupons to consumers to subsidize their transition to digital, it was hoped that the $40 coupons that consumers would receive would come close to covering the entire cost of the converter box necessary to keep an analog set operational. In fact, in most cases, the boxes have cost more than $40, requiring the consumer to pay at least some of the cost of the box. What has been particularly frustrating has been the announcement that Echostar, the satellite television provider of the Dish Network, had manufactured a highly rated box that would be available at $40, and would also include the ability to “pass through” analog signals – to continue to receive analog as well as digital signals – a particularly important property in markets where there are LPTV or TV translator stations that will continue to operate in analog after the February 17, 2009 deadline for the digital conversion of full-power television stations (see our post here on that issue). However, as the Chairman’s letter makes clear, that box and boxes like it are not available in most consumer electronics stores. Thus, the Commission has urged retailers to stock such devices in these final months before the digital cut-off so that no one is left behind. 

Continue Reading FCC Tackles Equipment Manufacturers for Not Including DTV Tuners in Their Devices

It’s been a week since Wilmington, North Carolina became the first television market in the country to have virtually all of its television stations convert to digital – ceasing their analog operations.  The FCC, NAB and local stations all concentrated great resources in Wilmington in order to ensure that the transition was smooth and, while most observers believe that disruption was minimal, there are some who remain concerned about the results of the Wilmington experiment, and whether it can be replicated in other television markets.  While the FCC ramps up its efforts to promote the digital television transition around the country, one Commissioner has suggested several other steps that should be taken (including leaving an analog lifeline for those people who don’t get the message), and Congress is set to weigh in on the issues over the next two weeks.  All in all, the push is on for the February 17, 2009 transition to digital.

One of the most thought provoking commentaries on the transition comes from Harry Jessell, editor of TV Newsday.  In a commentary published last Friday, Jessell computes that the complaints in Wilmington amounted to about 5% of the television households in that market.  If that pattern was to be repeated in all markets around the country, Jessell computes that there would be about 1.7 million homes that will miss the transition and be without TV service on February 18.  Jessell further figures that this is a best case number, as all of the publicity showered on Wilmington will not be available in the remainder of the country, and there will likely be more technical problems in other markets with more irregular terrain than Wilmington (which is mostly flat coastal plain) and where TV towers are in different locations.  Jessell suggests several steps – including staggered cut-off dates to avoid overloading national DTV hotlines, more education on antenna issues (one of the major issues in Wilmington), and more "soft-tests" (stations ceasing analog operations for limited periods to see if their viewers are ready for the transition). It is a commentary worth reading.

Continue Reading Digital Television Conversion is a Reality in Wilmington NC – Publicity Ramps Up Around the Country While Issues of Readiness are Raised

The Commission this week released an Order exempting certain small cable systems from the requirement that, after the February 2009 digital transition, for a three year period, cable systems carry both an analog version of a broadcast television station’s signal plus the station’s high definition signal.  This dual carriage requirement was imposed so that the

The Digital Television conversion has allowed the FCC to reclaim significant portions of the TV spectrum for wireless and public safety uses – television channels above 51 will no longer be used for broadcast TV at the end of the analog to digital transition.  But, as part of the FCC’s Diversity proceeding (see our post here), a proposal dealing with the other end of the TV spectrum is being considered – whether to remove Channels 5 and 6 from the television band and instead use these channels for FM radio.  These channels are adjacent to the lower end of the FM band.  Because of this adjacency, the existence of TV Channel 6 in a market can limit the use of the lowest end of the FM band (used for Noncommercial Educational stations) to avoid interference to the TV station.  Similarly, Channel 6’s audio can be heard on many FM radio receivers, a fact that has recently been used by some LPTV operators to use their stations to deliver an audio service that can be received by FM radios (see our post on this subject).  In comments filed in the Diversity proceeding, parties have taken positions all across the spectrum – from television operators who have opposed using the channel for anything but television, to those suggesting that the channels be entirely cleared of television users and turned into a digital radio service.  Proposals also suggest using the band for LPFM operations, and even for clearing the AM band by assigning AM operators to this band to commence new digital operations.

In comments that our firm submitted on behalf of a group of noncommercial FM radio licensees who also rebroadcast their signals on a number of FM translator stations, we suggested that Channel 6 could provide a home for LPFM operations, instead of trying to squeeze those stations into the existing FM band.  There are currently proposals to squeeze more LPFM stations into the FM band by supplanting some FM translators (see our summary of some of those proposals here).  In these comments in the Diversity proceeding, we pointed out that, as there are currently radios on the market that receive 87.9, 87.7 and even 87.5, using these three channels for LPFM service would provide an immediate home to these stations, and far more opportunity for than LPFM would have in the already congested FM band.  These opportunities would exist even in most of the largest radio markets in the country, except in the handful of markets where a Channel 6 television station will continue to operate after the digital transition.  By adopting this proposal, the service that would be provided by FM translators would not be threatened. 

Continue Reading What to Do With TV Channels 5 and 6 – Proposals to Turn Them Over to Radio Services

On Monday, the President signed into law a bill adjusting the reimbursement dates of the Low Power Television grant program by which LPTV and TV translator stations can seek a $1,000 grant in order to ensure that they are able to continue to receive and rebroadcast the signals of primary full-power television stations once the full-power stations complete the transition to digital television.   In late 2007, the government announced the start of the LPTV Digital-to-Analog grant program designed to help translators and low power television stations continue their analog broadcasts after the February 17, 2009 conversion of full-power television stations to DTV.  Specifically, the LPTV Digital-to-Analog Conversion grant program will provide funds to eligible translators and LPTV stations that need to purchase a digital-to-analog converter box in order to convert the incoming signal of a full-power DTV station to analog format for retransmission on the analog LPTV station.  The program has been funded with a total of $8 million, which is available in $1,000 grants to eligible LPTV stations.  As a result of the recent change, funds granted through the LPTV Digital-to-Analog grant program will available beginning in fiscal year 2009 (Oct. 1, 2008 – Sept. 30, 2009), rather than in fiscal year 2011.  In addition, the recent bill also extends the availability of funding through fiscal year 2012.

Any low-power television broadcast station, Class A television station, television translator station, or television booster station that meets the following three criteria may apply for the grant to defray the cost of the digital-to-analog converter box:

  1. It is itself broadcasting exclusively in analog format;
  2. It has not purchased a digital-to-analog conversion device prior to February 8, 2006; and
  3. It is (or will be) re-transmitting the off-air digital signal of a full-power DTV station.

Applications for this grant program are being accepted until February 17, 2009.  Priority compensation will be given to eligible LPTV stations licensed to 501(c) non-profit entities or LPTV stations serving a rural area of fewer than 10,000 viewers.  Thus, priority is given to stations owned by translator associations and others that might not otherwise be able to afford the costs of converting the signals that they receive from analog to digital, and which might, without the grants, go off the air.  More information on how to apply for such grants is available on the NTIA’s website here.   

Continue Reading Dates for Reimbursement Under the LPTV Digital-to-Analog Grant Program Revised

I recently attended the convention of the Montana Broadcasters Association, and just a few weeks before that I had been at an event sponsored by the Washington State Association of Broadcasters.  Talking with small market TV Broadcasters in those states, an issue that does not affect major television markets but which complicates the digital transition has become clear.  In smaller markets in many states, particularly in some of the western states where there are multiple geographically dispersed cities in many television markets, there is at least one network affiliate in many cities that is either an LPTV or TV translator station.   As we’ve written before, LPTV and translator stations are not required to convert to digital by the February 2009 digital conversion deadline.  Instead, these stations can continue to operate in analog until an as yet unspecified date in the future.  While these stations are allowed to convert to digital, many do not have the resources to do so.  Thus, many of these stations will continue to broadcast in analog after the February 18 transition deadline.  What makes the issue particularly problematic is that most  DTV converters do not allow the "pass through" of analog programming, i.e. once they are hooked up, television sets only receive digital signals and analog signals are effectively blocked.  This presents the potential of marketplace confusion for those viewers who do not receive their signals from cable or satellite, as they will be getting conflicting messages – being told to get a digital converter to pick up the full-power stations in a market as they convert to digital, but if the consumer buys the wrong converter box, they will not be able to receive other LPTV and translator stations in the same market.

The problem has been exaggerated as converter boxes with analog pass through have been delayed in reaching the marketplace.  When I bought converter boxes in Washington, DC early last month, neither of the two major electronics retailers had the converter boxes with analog pass-through available.  A well-reviewed box from EchoStar was supposed to hit stores last month, but it is in short supply.  I can find it on-line only at the Dish Network’s (owned by EchoStar) own website.  Thus, for households who buy and connect most of the available digital converter boxes, suddenly their analog LPTV stations are gone.  In some of these smaller Western markets, that may mean the loss of one or more local network affiliates.

Continue Reading The Digital Transition End Game in Smaller Markets – The Problem with LPTV

With the Digital Television conversion date only eight and a half months away, the end game is beginning.  The FCC has announced that Wilmington, North Carolina will be a test market for the digital conversion, going all-digital on September 8 (or almost all digital, as the local NPR affiliate is not planning to turn off its analog signal, and one LPTV station will continue to operate in analog).  This will provide the FCC with an opportunity to determine what will really happen when the digital transition occurs in February of next year.  What will the FCC learn from this early test?  In the statement of Commissioner Copps at a recent town hall meeting held in Wilmington to address the digital conversion, some of the issues to be watched were set out.

Essentially, the Commissioner identified four different broad categories of issues that would be considered.  They are:

  • Technical issues – will the DTV signals provide adequate service to their communities?  Will the converter boxes be able to receive the signals with "rabbit ear" antennas, or will there be reception problems
  • Will consumers have received the word about the transition, or are there certain groups that will be particularly hard-hit by the transition, missing out on vital information about that transition?
  • How will various partnerships work?  The Commissioner identifies partnerships between various industry, government and community groups to distribute news about the transition, but there are also partnerships between stations and multi-channel video providers (cable and direct broadcast satellite) that need to be worked out
  • The unknown – what other issues that are not anticipated will arise?

As set forth below, many of these issues have been receiving extensive press coverage in recent weeks.

Continue Reading What Will the FCC Learn from Wilmington – The Beginning of the End of the TV Digital Transition

Although many TV stations are already airing PSAs and other programming designed to educate the public about the upcoming digital television transition, the FCC released an Order containing very specific requirements  for these educational initiatives.  These rules mandate public education efforts about the DTV transition by television broadcasters, multichannel video providers, and electronics manufacturers.  In addition, the new rules require that television stations file a quarterly report on a new form, FCC Form 388, with the FCC (that is also placed in the station’s public file and on its website) certifying compliance with the requirements of the rules and setting out specifics of other consumer educations efforts about the DTV transition that the station has undertaken.The requirements will become effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, and continue through March 31, 2009, for all full power stations who complete the transition to their full DTV facilities by February 18, 2009.

The FCC has established three options for meeting the educational initiatives requirement, two of which are available to all TV stations, and one of which is available to noncommercial stations only.  Each has very specific mandates as to how many PSAs about the digital transition are required, and how much additional content (crawls, various over-lays onto programming, long-form programs) are required to meet the obligations.  Thus, broadcasters and others subject to these rules should review the specific requirements carefully.

Continue Reading FCC Announces DTV Consumer Education Requirements – Very Specific PSA Obligations Placed on Broadcasters

On the last day of 2007, the FCC released its Third Periodic Review of the Digital Television rules and policies, providing the rules and procedures that TV stations must follow in their final transition from analog to digital operations.  This transition leads up to the February 17 deadline when all television stations must cease analog broadcasting and operate full-time in