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.