The FCC late Friday released an Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing a number of issues which arose as a result of the Congressional delay in the DTV transition deadline from February 17 until June 12.  In many cases, the actions taken in the Order are ministerial – e.g. changing the expiration dates on digital construction permits from February to June.  But there were also a number of substantive issues addressed by the order – including the public education requirements for the remainder of the transition and the potential for delaying any further terminations of analog service until at least April, and subjecting any planned termination of analog service before June 12 to additional scrutiny to determine if that termination would serve the public interest.   This is despite what many have termed a relatively uneventful termination of analog service on February 17 by over 400 stations nationwide.  Comments on this change in the transition procedures are to be filed on an expedited basis – within 5 days of the publication of this order in the Federal Register.

The delay of the early termination of service is likely to cause the most controversy, as Senate Republicans backed the transition delay only after specifically including in the legislation language that seemingly permitted such transitions under the rules that were in place at the time that the legislation was adopted (see our post here).  This would seemingly have permitted stations to terminate analog service within 90 days of the June 12 deadline, provided they had given their listeners at least 30 days notice of their plans.  A number of stations have started to provide that notice, planning a termination in March. But the Commission has tentatively concluded that it can amend the process for termination, and has set the date of March 17 for a notice to be filed at the FCC by all stations that want to terminate analog service before June 12.  As the Commission plans to continue to require 30 days public notice of the termination, and as they won’t allow any termination decision to become official until the March 17 filing, the earliest a station can terminate analog service under this proposal (absent a technical issue or other extreme circumstance) would be April 16. 


Continue Reading FCC Releases More Details of Delayed DTV Transition – No More DTV Conversions Until April?

What a difference a few days makes.  At the beginning of this week, it was full speed ahead for the February 17 termination of analog television.  Then NTIA announced that it was out of money to pay for DTV coupons to assist the public in buying converter boxes so that analog TV sets will continue to work after the transition.  This action, in turn, caused Consumers Union to ask Congress for a delay in the transition, resulting in Congressman Markey’s office suggesting that the DTV transition might need to be delayed (as we wrote yesterday).  Today, the other shoe dropped as the Obama transition team formally wrote to Congress asking for a delay of the termination of analog television.  That letter leaves everyone asking – will Congress respond?  If so, what are the ramifications?

The NAB responded with a press release talking about how broadcasters are still prepared to meet the deadline, and how the deadline has focused all parties (TV stations, electronics manufacturers, cable and satellite companies) on doing what they need to do in order to be ready for the transition.  But the Obama team’s call for the postponement does not seem to be focused on the readiness of program providers to accomplish the switch, but instead on the readiness of viewers to deal with the new digital environment, especially given the lack of coupons for last minute shoppers still waiting to buy their converter boxes.  As we’ve written before, many in Washington are worried about the political ramifications of the transition – especially if millions of people wake up on February 18 and can’t watch the Today Show or Good Morning America.  And while that is a legitimate concern, one wonders if it will ever be possible to prepare everyone for the transition deadline.  Sure, if the deadline is postpone 4 or 5 months, there will be a marginal increase in people who are ready, but there will still be stragglers.  Catching up to them all may never happen until they are hit with the reality of their analog sets not working on the day after the transition, whenever that day may be.  If so, shouldn’t someone at least consider the costs that a delay will impose on broadcasters? 


Continue Reading Obama Transition Team Requests Delay of DTV Transition Deadline

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 National Telecommunications and Information Administration ("NTIA") now has made available the coupons for consumers to use to buy converter boxes that will allow analog television sets to pick up the digital signals of television stations.  We have written about the NTIA program before, here.  Digital signals are now available in most markets, and these signals will be the only signals available from full power television stations after the February 17, 2009 digital conversion deadline. The coupons, valued at $40, will be available until they run out (and, by most estimates, Congress has not appropriated enough money for every household to get coupons).  They are available to any household regardless of financial need, but can be used only to buy certain very simple converter boxes to convert over-the-air digital transmissions to analog so that the digital programs can be seen on analog television sets that are not hooked up to cable or satellite (cable and satellite systems will provide signals that will not need the use of these boxes).  The NTIA has a very helpful website, here, to explain the coupon program.  The applications for the coupons are available here

Any household can apply for up to two coupons.  Coupons cannot be aggregated to buy a single box – so the multiple coupons will only be of use to households with more than one set that is not connected to cable or satellite.  As set forth on the NTIA site, the boxes are expected to cost between $50 and $70, so the coupon will not completely cover the cost of the box.  What is perhaps most interesting is that, even though the applications for the coupons can be filed now, the coupons will not be sent out for another month or two, as there are no boxes yet available in local retail outlets.


Continue Reading Coupons For Converter Boxes Now Available From NTIA, So That Consumers Can Watch Digital Television on Analog Sets