The FCC has an open proceeding pending to allow AM stations to use FM translators. As we have written, while this proceeding continues, the Commission is allowing AM stations to rebroadcast their signals on FM translators on under Special Temporary Authority. In a case decided today, the FCC made clear that this is only
Many television stations are making the conversion to all-digital operations today (see our post here for details). These stations should remember that the DTV Consumer Education efforts that are currently in place apply to both the analog channel and the primary digital channel, and thus will continue after the conversion. Based on the current rules, …
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.
In these challenging economic times, it seems like almost every day we see a notice that a broadcast station has gone silent while the owner evaluates what to do with the facility. This seems particularly common among AM stations – many of which have significant operating costs and, in recent times, often minimal revenues. The DTV transition deadline (whenever that may be) may also result in a number of TV stations that don’t finish their DTV buildout in time being forced to go dark. While these times may call for these economic measures to cut costs to preserve the operations of other stations that are bringing in revenue, broadcasters must remember that there are specific steps that must be taken at the FCC to avoid fines or other problems down the road.
One of the first issues to be addressed is the requirement that the FCC be informed of the fact that a station has gone silent. Once a station has ceased operations for 10 days, a notice must be filed with the the FCC providing notification that the station is not operational. If the station remains silent for 30 days, specific permission, in the form of a request for Special Temporary Authority to remain silent, must be sought from the FCC. The rules refer to reasons beyond the control of the licensee as providing justification for the station being off the air. Traditionally, the FCC has wanted a licensee to demonstrate that there has been a technical issue that has kept the station off the air. The Commission was reluctant to accept financial concerns as providing justification for the station being silent – especially if there was no clear plan to sell the station or to promptly return it to the air. Perhaps the current economic climate may cause the FCC to be more understanding – at least for some period of time.
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.