Several press reports were issued today suggesting that there is at least some consideration in Congress of delaying the DTV transition now scheduled to be completed on February 17. The consideration stems from the announcement that the NTIA (the National Telecommunications and Information Administration) had run out of money to issue the $40 coupons
2009 – a new year, and a whole new cycle of regulatory requirements. We wrote last week about the potential for changes in regulations that may be forthcoming but, like death and taxes, there are certain regulatory dates each year that broadcasters need to note and certain deadlines that must be met. Those dates…
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
Congress recently passed legislation authorizing an analog "nightlight" or lifeline for those left behind after the digital transition. This law was designed to allow certain full-power stations to remain operating in analog on February 18, with information about the digital transition for those people who otherwise managed to miss the information about that deadline. This past week, while Santa was making his deliveries, the FCC released its proposals for implementing this authorization. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking sets out a list of stations that can take advantage of the authorization automatically, and the process for other stations being able to operate such a service. In addition, the Notice proposes restrictions on the nightlight operation, the length of service, and miscellaneous other matters. Given the tight timeframe before implementation on the end date of the digital transition, comments on the FCC’s proposals will be due 5 days after they are published in the Federal Register, and replies 3 days later.
The proposals include the following:
- Analog operation would be permitted by authorized stations for only 30 days after the end of the digital transition, through the end of the day on March 19, 2009.
- The nightlight service can only include information about local emergencies, and information about how viewers can get digital television services. The information about how to get digital services should be in English and Spanish, and accessible to those with disabilities. No advertising will be permitted.
- The Commission attached to its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking a list of eligible stations . Such stations, if they are interested in participating, need to electronically file by February 10 a request for Special Temporary Authority to operate the nightlight . No filing fee will be required.
- Stations not listed may still participate by demonstrating how they will protect all digital operations, through lower power, terrain shielding, directional antennas or similar techniques. Comments showing how they will participate should be filed in the comment period for the NPRM.
- The nightlight service will not be entitled to mandatory cable carriage.
The digital television conversion end game is upon us, and everyone seems to be getting a little testy. Seemingly, not everyone is convinced that the consumer education efforts have prepared the public for the transition, and thus Washington seems to be preparing for problems. But, in a last minute attempt to solve some of the potential issues, both Congress and the new Administration have stepped into the breach to put pressure on broadcasters and the FCC to be prepared to deal with the February end date for analog TV. Congress passed legislation authorizing the FCC to allow some television stations in each market to continue to operate in analog after the end of the transition to tell consumers who didn’t make the switch what to do (an analog "life line service"). At the same time, Congress urged the FCC to mind the transition and not start off on new regulatory battles, causing the cancellation of this week’s FCC meeting. In this event-filled 10 days, the new Obama administration also stepped into the DTV transition, a potentially significant issue that will face the new administration less than a month after taking office, pushing broadcasters, cable companies and direct broadcast satellite companies to pay for and establish phone banks to provide assistance to consumers stranded by the transition.
The cancellation of the Commission’s meeting was perhaps the strangest of these matters. The FCC was prepared to hold a meeting later this week, with a full schedule of items to consider, including various items related, in one way or another, to the digital transition. Included were a series of fines to broadcasters, consumer electronics stores, and others for not doing everything required by the rules to facilitate the digital transition. The Commission was also planning to start the rulemaking process to authorize digital "fill-in" translators, i.e. low powered TV stations rebroadcasting a main station on other channels within the main station’s service area to fill holes in digital service. Plus, the FCC was to deal with the Chairman’s proposals for a free wireless Internet service on channels being vacated by television stations as part of the transition. Yet, Congressman Henry Waxman, the new chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Senator Rockefeller, the newly appointed Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee ( the committees with responsibility over the FCC) wrote a letter to the FCC saying that it should concentrate its efforts on the transition, and not take up issues on which the new administration may want a role (perhaps the wireless service). After receiving the letter, the December meeting was canceled (the first time in memory that the FCC did not have a monthly meeting as seemingly required by Section 5 of the Communications Act). Continue Reading Congress Throws an Analog Lifeline While Telling FCC to Deal With the DTV Transition and Cancel Meeting, While New Administration Pushes for Phone Banks for Consumer Complaints
Today FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin released a tentative agenda for the scheduled December 18, 2008 Open Commission Meeting. The tentative agenda, available here, contains a number of items that the Chairman has circulated to the other Commissioners for consideration at the upcoming Open Meeting. Whether these items actually make it to the agenda…
The FCC has adopted new procedures for the submission of complaints about the failure to adequately provide closed captioning of video programming carried on television stations and cable systems. In the same order, the Commission issued clarifications about the impact of the digital transition on the obligations of stations and networks to caption programming…
By December 1, 2008, all commercial and noncommercial digital television (DTV) stations must electronically file an FCC Form 317 with the Commission reporting on whether the station has provided any ancillary and supplementary services during the twelve-month period ending on September 30, 2008.
Under the Commission’s Rules, in addition to providing free over-the-air broadcast…
With the final transition of television from analog to digital soon upon us, the FCC has scheduled for consideration at its November meeting two items that will address the use of the television spectrum after the transition – one designed to improve television reception, and the other viewed by television broadcasters as a threat to that reception. The potential positive development is Distributed Transmission Service ("DTS"). The other proposal – which is far more controversial – is the proposal to authorize "white spaces devices" that operate wireless devices within the portion of the spectrum that will still be used by television stations after the transition.
DTS is the proposal that would allow television stations to use more than one transmitter to reach its service area. Like the use of FM on-channel boosters, a DTS system would permit stations to use multiple transmitters located throughout their service area, each broadcasting on the same channel, but operating at a lower power than the traditional television station which usually operates from a single high-powered transmitter. The idea is that, in digital, signals distributed from lower power transmitters spread throughout the service area might be less susceptible to signal impediments from terrain and building obstacles than would a single high-power transmitter. The FCC proposed adoption of this system several years ago with little opposition, but it has languished. Some have suggested that the experience in Wilmington, where some people who lived far from the center of the market were having over-the-air reception problems, gave new impetus to DTS as one way to provide better service to these more remote areas.Continue Reading Issues on the Post-Transition Use of the Television Spectrum – White Spaces and Distributed Transmission Service (DTS)
As broadcasters are aware, earlier this year, the FCC imposed DTV Consumer Education requirements mandating that television stations and other video providers educate viewers about the upcoming transition from analog to digital television (DTV). Thus far, the education efforts have consisted primarily of Public Service Announcements (PSAs), crawls, and longer format programs designed to educate the…