Channel 6 of the television band is immediately adjacent to the lower end of the FM band.  Noncommercial FM radio stations, located at the lower end of the FM band (88.1 FM to 91.9), have the potential to interfere with television stations on that channel.  Thus, FCC rules require that noncommercial FM stations protect

Although many TV stations are already airing PSAs and other programming designed to educate the public about the upcoming digital television transition, the FCC released an Order containing very specific requirements  for these educational initiatives.  These rules mandate public education efforts about the DTV transition by television broadcasters, multichannel video providers, and electronics manufacturers.  In addition, the new rules require that television stations file a quarterly report on a new form, FCC Form 388, with the FCC (that is also placed in the station’s public file and on its website) certifying compliance with the requirements of the rules and setting out specifics of other consumer educations efforts about the DTV transition that the station has undertaken.The requirements will become effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, and continue through March 31, 2009, for all full power stations who complete the transition to their full DTV facilities by February 18, 2009.

The FCC has established three options for meeting the educational initiatives requirement, two of which are available to all TV stations, and one of which is available to noncommercial stations only.  Each has very specific mandates as to how many PSAs about the digital transition are required, and how much additional content (crawls, various over-lays onto programming, long-form programs) are required to meet the obligations.  Thus, broadcasters and others subject to these rules should review the specific requirements carefully.

Continue Reading FCC Announces DTV Consumer Education Requirements – Very Specific PSA Obligations Placed on Broadcasters

In recent weeks, Low Power Television stations have been the center of attention in Washington in connection with the Digital television transition.  While all full-power television stations are set to convert to digital operations less than a year from now, ceasing analog operations at the end of the day on February 17, 2009, there is no specific deadline for LPTV stations to convert to digital.  As the NTIA rolls out its coupon program for the purchase of converter boxes that will take digital signals of over-the-air television stations and convert them to analog for those who do not have digital television receivers (see our summary here), LPTV advocates noted that many converters do not pass through analog signals.  Thus, once a television is hooked up to a converter box, that television will not be able to pick up stations broadcasting in analog – so many unconverted LPTV stations after the conversion date will be denied access to television receivers.

Suggestions have been made that the converter boxes be reconfigured to pass through analog – unlikely as many of the boxes have already been manufactured and are on their way to stores (note that some converters do pass through analog signals, but a consumer needs to look for those boxes).  LPTV advocates have also asked for some form of cable must-carry during the transition process – a proposal sure to be opposed by cable system operators. 

Continue Reading The Trouble With LPTV – No Plan for DTV Transition

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 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.


Continue Reading FCC Releases Order Addressing the Process for the Final Transition to Digital Television

At last Tuesday’s FCC meeting, the Commission adopted a controversial order, over the objection of two Commissioners, that could limit the processing of some applications for improvements by some full power FM stations, and would restrict translator applications, all in the name of encouraging Low Power FM (LPFM) stations to provide outlets for expression by groups that cannot get access to full-power radio stations (see our summary of that action here).  In recent weeks, two ideas have received some publicity providing an alternative outlet for these prospective local broadcasters – and both provide a simple solution (one more immediate and ad hoc than that other), but both leading to the same result – why not just extend the FM band by using TV channel 6?

The current FM band begins at 88.1 MHz, a channel that is actually immediately adjacent to TV Channel 6.  The FCC has for years restricted operations of noncommercial FM stations (which operate from 88.1 to 91.9 on the FM dial) in areas where there are Channel 6 TV stations in order to prevent the radio stations from creating interference to the reception of the TV stations.  That’s while you will often find fewer noncommercial stations, or ones with weaker coverage, in communities that have TV Channel 6 licensees.  TV stations use an FM transmission system for their audio.  Thus, you will also find that most FM receivers (especially ones without digital tuners) will pick up the audio from TV channel 6 if tuned all the way to the left of the dial.  The short-term solution to expanding the FM band came from one broadcaster who noted that fact.

Continue Reading Who Needs LPFM? – Why Not Just Expand the FM Dial?

As the nation’s television stations move closer and closer to the February 17, 2009 termination of analog broadcasting, plans are well underway to re-use the channel that these stations must surrender after that date.  Currently, most television stations operate on two channels, their traditional analog channel, and a transition channel on which they have been

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

The Digital Television transition, as we’ve written before, is becoming a political hot potato, with everyone seemingly preparing to point the finger at others if the transition does not run smoothly. In recent weeks, we’ve seen Republicans and Democrats alike taking their shots at broadcasters and the FCC – looking for likely sources of blame if there are a significant number of viewers who have a television signal that is missing in action on February 18, 2009, the day after the end of the transition. Many are blaming television broadcasters for not pushing the transition more in Public Service Announcements and other announcements on their airwaves. Some suggest a set of mandatory public service obligations to inform the public (see details here).  But would such a push at this time do any good when the availability of converter boxes is limited, and the price of digital-only television sets still high?

In recent actions, Commissioner Copps wrote an op-ed piece in USA Today last week sounding an old theme – more public interest obligations for digital television (see our post on the pending proposals, here) – and a newer one, that broadcasters should now be running public service announcements that inform the public of the steps that they need to take to be ready for the transition (either subscribing to cable or satellite or getting a digital television or converter box). A similar point about the publicity for the transition – perhaps even mandatory PSAs – was made in a recent letter from two Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Joe Barton and Fred Upton, to the FCC. While there is no question that broadcasters need to promote the digital transition as the public is woefully uninformed of what is coming, does promotion do any good if the hardware is not available?

Continue Reading Pushing Too Hard for Publicity on the Digital Television Transition?

Late Tuesday night, in a meeting originally scheduled to start at 9:30 in the morning, the FCC adopted an order establishing the rules governing the carriage of broadcast signals by cable operators after the February 17, 2009 transition to digital television.  While the full text of the Commission’s action has not yet been released (and may not be released for quite some time), based on the FCC’s formal news release and the statements made by the commissioners at the meeting and in their accompanying press releases, we can provide the following summary of these important FCC actions.

First, for a period of at least three years after the February 17, 2009 transition from analog to digital broadcasting, cable operators will be required to make the signals of local broadcast stations available to all of their subscribers by either:  (1) carrying the television station’s digital signal in an analog format, or (2) carrying the signal only in digital format, provided that all subscribers have the necessary equipment to view the broadcast content.  This rule reflects a compromise position offered by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and is regarded as less burdensome on cable systems then the FCC’s original proposal of an indefinite analog carriage obligation. 

Second, the FCC reaffirmed its existing requirement that cable systems must carry High Definition (HD) broadcast signals in HD format, and further that it must carry signals with “no material degradation”, i.e., with picture quality as good as any other programming carried by the operator.  In affirming its "no material degradation" standard, the FCC rejected a proposal by the broadcast industry that would have required operators to pass-through all of the bits in digital television broadcast signal.

Continue Reading FCC Adopts Post-Digital Transition “Must-Carry” Rules, Extends Ban on Exclusive Programming Contracts, and Opens Inquiry Into “Tying” Agreements