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NAB seeking digital-TV relief

Jul 16, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The National Association of Broadcasters has quietly asked the Federal Communications Commission to let broadcasters slash their hours of digital TV operation.
Under FCC regulations, broadcasters are supposed to transmit digital TV signals whenever they operate their analog stations.
The regulation was intended to expedite the DTV rollout by giving consumers impetus to buy DTV sets.
But in a recent visit with the FCC’s commissioners, an NAB contingent-led by NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts-charged that the rule is forcing broadcasters to squander enormous amounts of electricity at a time when there are few TV sets in consumer homes capable of DTV reception.
“The commission should … permit DTV stations, at least until DTV set penetration becomes more significant, to operate with reduced hours and thus save electricity,” the NAB contingent said, according to an association account of the visit filed at the agency.
Also according to the filing, Mr. Fritts and his companions
warned that hundreds of the nation’s smaller-market broadcasters are unlikely to be able to launch their DTV operations by May 2002-the deadline the FCC has set for all the nation’s commercial broadcasters to begin DTV operations.
The NAB said that to avoid a crush of waiver requests, an extension for smaller markets “would reduce the burden on the commission’s staff [in] dealing with perhaps hundreds of individual requests.”
Otherwise, the NAB recommended that the FCC make extensions easier by designing a simple check-off application form that would allow broadcasters to postpone DTV launches for a variety of reasons, including financial hardship.
On still another front, the NAB asked the FCC to reconsider a decision requiring a station’s DTV signal to cover the entire territory it intends to serve, rather than just a small portion of it, by May 2002.
An industry source said the FCC’s DTV operational requirements are particularly irksome because industry revenues are hurting from a soft advertising market, and the electricity to operate a DTV station costs $10,000 a month.
“You couple what’s happening with the economy with the added electricity bills, and you begin to appreciate the hurdles that all broadcasters-and particularly small-market broadcasters-face,” a source said.
But Jenny Miller, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association, said granting NAB’s requests for relief would slow DTV’s rollout.
“It’s going to delay the transition further and deprive consumers of the full digital experience that is DTV,” Ms. Miller said.
Ms. Miller also said manufacturers have sold 1,221,907 DTV products (monitors and receivers) to dealers since 1998, with prices dropping 40 percent over the years. She also said it was unclear how many of those products were equipped with DTV tuners enabling them to receive over-the-air DTV signals.
Under FCC rules, the only DTV stations required to be on the air at this point are the Big 4 affiliates in the top 30 markets. But even so, the NAB says 199 of the nation’s 1,200 commercial TV stations are offering DTV, enough to cover 68 percent of the nation’s TV households. NAB also said a recent association survey suggests that enough DTV stations would flip the switch by May 2002 to cover 90 percent of households.