FCC OKs pullback on digital TV rollout

Nov 12, 2001  •  Post A Comment

In a victory for broadcasters, the Federal Communications Commission last week announced that it had cleared the way for stations to slash digital TV power and hours of operation.
Under the FCC’s previous rules, broadcasters were supposed to air DTV signals whenever their analog channels were in operation. They were also supposed to broadcast with enough DTV power to cover their analog service areas by the end of 2004.
But the FCC voted unanimously last week to let broadcasters cut DTV operations back to prime time only, at least until April 2003. The FCC also said that for the foreseeable future, broadcasters would only have to use enough DTV power to cover their communities of license.
In addition, FCC officials said broadcasters might be allowed to operate at the reduced power levels until the DTV transition is complete, defined as when 85 percent of TV households are able to receive the DTV signals of broadcasters in a market.
On a related note, the FCC said it would be open to granting waivers to commercial broadcasters who plead that financial hardships have prevented them from meeting a longtime agency deadline to launch DTV operations by May 1 next year.
Under the FCC’s original DTV game plan, the 2002 deadline was set to expedite the DTV transition-and broadcasters who couldn’t meet the cut risked losing their DTV channels.
But the FCC is now expecting so many broadcasters to miss the target date that it is designing a special new “short form” to make it easier for broadcasters to apply for waivers.
The FCC also announced that it was putting on indefinite hold a deadline that was supposed to require stations to beef up their DTV operations to operate at full power by May 1 next year. Also put on hold was a requirement that broadcasters decide whether they want to use their existing analog channels for DTV operations by the end of 2003.
These FCC deadlines were also originally adopted to encourage DTV’s rollout. But in an unusual twist, FCC officials last week said they now believe that postponing the deadlines might better serve the interests of the DTV transition by lowering initial DTV operating costs for broadcasters.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell said waivers from next year’s buildout requirement would not be automatic. “We’ll examine under a fairly high burden-of-proof standard waiver applications presented,” he said.