The Commission’s recent Order establishing the rules and time line for low power television stations to convert to DTV has now been published in the Federal Register, meaning that most of the new rules regarding the conversion of low power television stations to digital television are now in effect. As we wrote about extensively here,on July
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.…
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.…
On the last day of 2007, the FCC released a 108 page order detailing its rules for the final stages of the transition of US full power television stations from analog to digital, a transition that is to be completed in less than 14 months. The Third Periodic Review, as the order is titled, covers in detail the timing of required construction of the final facilities for each full power television station, as well as various details on other transition issues. While we will prepare a more detailed summary of the order, some of the more significant issues that the Commission addressed include the following:
- Established firm construction deadlines for final digital facilities for television stations which have not yet constructed those facilities. The deadlines are:
- February 17, 2009 for stations moving to a new digital channel, or to their analog channel, for their ultimate digital operations
- May 18, 2008 for stations that will remain on their current digital channel and which already hold a construction permit for their digital operations
- August 18, 2008 for stations that will remain on their current digital channel but which do not have a construction permit for their ultimate facilities
- Extensions of these deadlines will be permitted only upon a showing that the circumstances preventing construction were unexpected or beyond the control of the licensee, including zoning and financial inability – though these standards were made more limited than those that previously applied. Any extension beyond February 17, 2009 will be granted only if it meets the Commission’s tolling standards, e.g. there is litigation which must be resolved before the construction can begin or an Act of God that temporarily precludes construction.
- By February 18, 2008, each television station licensee must file a new form with the FCC, Form 387, detailing the status of construction of the digital facilities of the station, and must update the information periodically if they have not yet completed their DTV construction.
- The Commission has agreed to allow stations to receive Special Temporary Authority to operate with limited facilities, and to even cease analog broadcasting before the end of the transition or for periods of up to 30 days, if necessary to facilitate their ultimate construction, under certain specific guidelines and after prior notification that must be given to viewers.
- The current freeze on applications for increased facilities will be lifted after August 18, 2008
- The Commission adopted new interference standards for applications for improvement in digital stations
- Any digital station, whether operating as a licensee or permittee, must pay fees for any ancillary or supplementary services that they provide with their digital spectrum
- Provided a format for the station identification that must be used when a digital station uses a secondary channel to rebroadcast another station, such as a low power television station.