Tardy stations may lose DTV licenses

May 20, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Hoping to signal a get-tough attitude about digital TV, the Federal Communications Commission last week warned that stations that don’t meet the agency’s transition deadlines could lose their DTV licenses.
“The leash is short, as it must be,” said FCC Chairman Michael Powell.
All 1,288 of the nation’s commercial TV stations were supposed to launch DTV operations by May 1. But as it stands, and to the chagrin of regulators, 909-or roughly 70 percent-as of early this month had requested waivers that would give them at least an additional six months to get their DTV operations on the air.
At a public meeting last week, the FCC proposed new rules to crack down on additional unexcused deadline absences.
Under the proposed regulations, stations that fail to flip their DTV switches within six months of the grant of their waiver could face admonishment, assuming they can’t demonstrate that their tardiness is due to legitimate financial hardship or other circumstances beyond their control.
Stations that aren’t on the air within another half-year thereafter could be fined. Stations that aren’t on the air within yet another six months after that could lose their right to launch DTV broadcasts altogether.
“If stations think that the commissioners are going to blink on this, they’re wrong,” said Ken Ferree, chief of the agency’s Media Bureau.
“The FCC is unanimous in its continuing commitment to drive the transition,” Mr. Powell added.
Also at its meeting, the FCC announced that it had decided to give nine network affiliates in the top 30 markets an additional six months to launch their own DTV operations, even though agency rules said large-market stations were to launch DTV no later than Nov. 1, 1999.
FCC officials said the stations cited technical problems and other factors beyond their control.
The nine stations: WBBM-DT in Chicago; KTVT-DT in Fort Worth, Texas; WTVJ-DT in Miami; KMGH-DT in Denver; KCNC-DT in Denver; KUSA-TV in Denver; WFSB-DT in Hartford, Conn.; WTIC-DT, also in Hartford; and WVIT-DT in New Britain, Conn.
The FCC also said network affiliates in the top 30 markets are expected to operate their DTV facilities at full power.#