On Friday, the FCC released its further Report and Order addressing the termination of analog service between now and June 12th, and revising the current DTV Consumer Education Requirements.  Despite the apparent success of the February 17th turn-off of approximately one-third of the analog television stations in the country, the FCC has now ratcheted up the DTV Consumer Education requirements at the eleventh hour.  The FCC has expanded and revised its rules significantly, so stations should review the Commission’s Order carefully and adjust their efforts and the content of their spots, crawls, etc., as necessary.  These new requirements will go into effect starting April 1st.  The full copy of the FCC’s Order is available here, and a summary of the new DTV education requirements is as follows:

First, in one of the few moves to reduce the burden on stations, the FCC has eliminated the requirement for most stations to continue broadcasting DTV transition educational information after they have terminated analog service and are operating in digital only.  Thus, stations that have completed construction of their full-authorized, post-transition digital facilities and are operating exclusively in DTV do not need to continue with the general DTV Consumer Education announcements.

Second, for those stations that have not yet terminated analog, the FCC has expanded the DTV Education requirements in order, in the FCC’s words: “to ensure that consumers will receive the information they need to make proper preparations for the digital transition of the stations on which they rely for television service.”  Specifically, beginning April 1, 2009, the stations must comply with the following rules:

1. Loss Area Notices– If the FCC’s Signal Loss Report — available here  — predicts that 2 percent or more of the population in a station’s Grade B analog service contour will not receive the station’s digital signal, then the station must air service loss notices to inform viewers of exactly where (i.e. which communities or what sections of the market) an analog signal is received today, but won’t receive a digital signal after the transition. These notices are in addition to the existing consumer education requirements. The FCC estimates that there are 213 stations still operating in analog that will lose more than 2 percent of the current population when they switch to digital-only. Thus, stations should review the FCC’s Signal Loss Reports and determine how best to convey information about "loss areas" (if any) to their viewers. For stations needing to air information about loss areas, the notices must be no shorter than 30 seconds and must be aired at least once per day between 8 AM and 11:35 PM. These spots are in addition to other on-air informational requirements.

2. Antenna Information– All stations must include information about the use of antennas as part of their consumer education campaign, including information concerning a station’s change from the VHF to UHF bands, and the need for additional or different equipment to avoid loss of service. Antenna info can be included in existing DTV consumer education efforts, such as in news programs and longer format pieces. Information must be provided at least once per day, in a message lasting at least 15 seconds, with at least three of those messages a week airing during prime time. 


Continue Reading FCC Adds More DTV Consumer Education Requirements

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?

Yesterday, we briefly wrote about the FCC’s release of a notice summarizing the process that television stations need to follow as they transition to digital under the newly extended DTV conversion date.  In yesterday’s post, we promised a more detailed memo summarizing the requirements that the FCC has set out.  That advisory is now available here

The House of Representatives, after a fairly contentious debate, today passed the Bill extending the termination date for analog service by full-power TV stations, extending the Digital Television deadline until June 12.  By that date, all full-power stations will need to complete the transition to digital so that, on June 13, there will be no

This week, an agreement by Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the ranking minority member on the Senate Commerce Committee, to an extension of the DTV transition deadline from February 17 until June 12, was announced.  The delay has been requested so that issues about the distribution of the $40 government coupons to consumers to ease their purchase of converters to allow analog TVs to pick up digital signals so that they will continue to work after the transition date can be resolved; and so that there can be more targeted information about the transition delivered to groups that many feel may not have received the message about the transition. But Congressional Republicans have thus far blocked attempts by the Obama administration to delay the transition, so this agreement by Senator Hutchinson is viewed as a sign that the extension may very well be approved in the near term.  As the transition deadline is only weeks away, if Congress is going to act, it needs to do so immediately, or the effect of any delay will be negligible as the transition will have, for all practical purposes, already occurred.

Most broadcast stations have made plans for the transition – ordering the equipment, scheduling tower crews, coordinating the changes in frequencies with other stations in the same region that may be necessary to accommodate the digital operations.  In some cases, stations have already ceasing their analog broadcasting so that the new equipment necessary to accomplish the transition can be installed, or because these stations will be operating digitally on their analog frequency and have had to allow a tower crew or other engineering support to conduct the work necessary to allow the digital operations on the final channel to occur before the February deadline dates.  Given the limited number of such crews, not all of these final changes could happen on a single date, so stations have been changing to all digital operations now as the final date approaches.  Without Congressional action very soon, the transition will have, for the most part, already occurred.


Continue Reading Senator Hutchison Announces Compromise on DTV Transition Delay Until June 12 – Why Congress Needs to Act Soon

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced that he will be leaving the Commission on Tuesday as the new President is inaugurated, and thus will not be present at the FCC to set any last minute policy for the DTV transition.  In fact, if Martin had decided to stay for the end of the transition, he might well have had to stick around for a while, as there are bills making their way through Congress to delay the February 17 deadline for the transition to digital television.  Senator Rockefeller has introduced a bill that would extend the deadline to June 12, which Senate Republicans blocked last week, though it will reportedly be reintroduced this week.  At the same time, the three remaining Commissioners have all released letters that indicate that there are significant transition problems that need to be resolved before the transition deadline.  While there are those who wonder if the delay will really solve the problems that may exist – the movement is in the direction of a delay.

The letters from the Commissioners are most interesting.  First came a letter from Commissioner McDowell, not directed to Congress, but instead to Chairman Martin, publicly asking for information about the FCC’s DTV phone bank to answer questions from consumers about the transition.  According to the McDowell letter, he was unable to get information about the status of upgrades to the system to handle the expected influx of calls at the end of the transition.  McDowell also complained about calls that were not answered at all, or which had long wait times, when consumers called – wait times that often resulted in connections with a voicemail system.  And he raised questions about the failure of the phonebank to be open on weekends.  It has now been announced that IBM has been hired to man the phonebank, perhaps answering some of the questions Commissioner McDowell raised in his letter.


Continue Reading Kevin Martin Departs as Congress Looks at June 12 DTV Transition Deadline – While Remaining Commissioners Write Letters About Transition Problems