digital television transition

Another year is upon us, and it’s time for predictions as to what Washington may have in store for broadcasters in 2010.  Each year, when we look at what might be coming, we are amazed at the number of issues that could affect the industry – often issues that are the same year to year as final decisions are often hard to come by in Washington with the interplay between the FCC and other government agencies, the courts and Congress. This year, as usual, we see a whole list of issues, many of which remain from prior years. But this year is different, as we have had a list topped by issues such as the suggestion that television spectrum be reallotted for wireless uses and the radio performance royalty, that could fundamentally affect the broadcast business.  The new administration at the FCC is only beginning to get down to business, having filling most of the decision-making positions at the Commission.  Thus far, its attention has been focused on broadband, working diligently to complete a report to Congress on plans for implementation of a national broadband plan, a report that is required to be issued in February.  But, from what little we have seen from the new Commission and its employees, there seems to be a willingness to reexamine many of the fundamental tenants of broadcasting.  And Congress is not shy about offering its own opinions on how to make broadcasting "better."  This willingness to reexamine some of the most fundamental tenets of broadcasting should make this a most interesting, and potentially frightening, year. Some of the issues to likely be facing television, radio and the broadcasting industry generally are set out below.

Television Issues.

In the television world, at this time last year, we were discussing the end of the digital television transition, and expressing the concern of broadcasters about the FCC’s White Spaces decision allowing unlicensed wireless devices into the television spectrum. While the White Spaces process still has not been finalized, that concern over the encroachment on the TV spectrum has taken a back seat to a far more fundamental issue of whether to repurpose large chunks of the television spectrum (if not the entire spectrum) for wireless users, while compressing television into an even smaller part of what’s left of the television band – if not migrating it altogether to multichannel providers like cable or satellite, with subscription fees for the poorest citizens being paid for from spectrum auction receipts. This proposal, while floated for years in academic circles, has in the last three months become one that is being legitimately debated in Washington, and one that television broadcasters have to take seriously, no matter how absurd it may seem at first glance. Who would have thought that just six month after the completion of the digital transition, when so much time and effort was expended to make sure that homes that receive free over-the-air television would not be adversely impacted by the digital transition, we could now be talking about abolishing free over-the-air television entirely? This cannot happen overnight, and it is a process sure to be resisted as broadcasters seek to protect their ability to roll out new digital multicast channels and their mobile platforms. But it is a real proposal which, if implemented, could fundamentally change the face of the television industry.  Watch for this debate to continue this year.


Continue Reading Looking Into the Crystal Ball – What Can Broadcasters Expect from Washington in 2010?

The FCC today announced that, effective October 27, noncommercial FM stations need no longer protect Channel 6 analog television channels.  The lower end of the FM band, which is reserved for noncommercial educational FM broadcasting, is immediately adjacent to TV Channel 6.  As most television stations abandoned Channel 6 in June when the digital television

With the extension of the DTV transition deadline now passed by Congress, it’s the FCC’s turn to implement the extension and set the way in which television stations will deal with the new June 12 date for the termination of analog television.  To start to implement that extension, the FCC today issued a public notice setting out the procedures to be followed by stations in dealing with the new deadline.  The Public Notice allows stations that want to do so to go ahead and terminate their digital service on February 17 despite the extension, but they must file with the FCC a notice of that election by midnight on Monday, February 9.  The Notice also sets out the requirement for these stations to run a significant number of announcements between now and February 17, including an increasing number of crawls in the final week before the termination date, all to tell viewers that these stations really will be turning off their analog signals on February 17 as they have been saying that they will for the last few years.

If stations do not turn off their signals on February 17, they must keep operating in analog until at least March 14, and can only terminate after giving the FCC at least 30 days prior notice.  Education efforts about the new deadline date will also need to continue through the new deadline, and will need to be amended to reflect that deadline.  A Davis Wright Tremaine Advisory on these requirements will be published soon – but the Public Notice provides much of the necessary information that stations need to know right now.


Continue Reading FCC Issues Instructions for Stations to Deal With the Extension of the DTV Conversion Deadline

The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Digital Fill-In Translators, to provide television service in areas where a television station’s digital signal does not reach locations that were covered by its analog operations (a proposal we summarized here) was published in the Federal Register today, setting comment dates on this proposal.  Comments are due on January 12, and Replies on January 22.  As the Commission has already published instructions for filing for temporary authority to operate these stations, broadcasters who are interested in the final rules that may be adopted should look to file comments on these matters before the January 12 deadline.  This is another proceeding that is being rushed through the Commission in anticipation of the February 17 end of the digital television transition.

The analog nightlight proceeding is on an even faster track, with comments due on Monday (see our summary of that proceeding here). The Commission has just released a tentative agenda for its January 15 meeting, where the only item it will consider (other than reports from the Commission’s various Bureau Chiefs) will be the analog nightlight proposal.  This is likely to be Chairman Martin’s last meeting as chair of the FCC.  In light of the Congressional mandate to complete this proceeding by January 15, the Commission will have received comments and replies and digested them into a decision – all in the space of  20 days from the release of its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – with the Christmas and New Years holidays intervening!  If anything, this shows two things – that the FCC can move rapidly if it has to, and that the DTV transition is the one and only real priority on the full Commission’s agenda right now. 


Continue Reading TV Digital Transition Rushes On – Comment Date on Proposals for Digital Fill-In Translators Set for January 12 and Analog Nightlight to Be Approved at January 15 Commission Meeting

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

On Friday, the FCC issued a public notice promising further testing of "white spaces" devices.   As we’ve written before, these devices are being promoted by many of the largest tech companies as ways to make more efficient use of the television spectrum by using low power wireless devices within that spectrum in places where those devices would not interfere with the operation of television reception.  The National Association of Broadcasters and other television groups have opposed allowing such operations for fear that they will cause interference to broadcast stations.  Especially during the digital transition, when listening habits are just being worked out and new digital televisions are just being purchase and installed by users, and because interference to a digital television station does not result in "snow" as in the analog world, but instead no picture at all, broadcasters fear that these devices could severely impact the success of the digital transition. 

In August, as we wrote here, the FCC released the first results of its interference studies, finding the potential for severe interference to television broadcasters.  While broadcast groups trumpeted these tests as proof of their fears, many of the tech companies claimed that the testing was flawed, using at least one device that was malfunctioning.  The tech companies essentially asked for a "do over," while the broadcasters argued that, even if a tested device was malfunctioning, that malfunction itself was enough to demonstrate that the devices are not reliable enough to protect television operations during this sensitive transition.


Continue Reading FCC Plans More Testing of White Spaces Devices to Operate Within the Television Spectrum

In July, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking suggesting specific requirements for publicizing the digital television transition and the February 2009 deadline for broadcast stations to convert from analog to digital operations.  We wrote about some of the Commission’s specific proposals, including the possibility of mandating public service announcements on television stations, here