FCC Adopts Rules for Digital Stations

Aug 4, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted rules today making clear that broadcasters that don’t soon raise their digital TV stations to fully authorized power levels could lose potential audience reach permanently.

According to industry estimates, about 1,400 of the nation’s 1,600 TV stations are offering DTV service. But some stations-particularly in smaller markets-are not currently operating at fully authorized levels, a move that critics charge is undermining the transition. In its order today, the FCC said most Big 4 network affiliates in the top 100 markets would have to be up to full power by July 1, 2005, or lose interference protection. Most other stations would have to follow suit by July 1, 2006.

“Station licensees that meet these deadlines will be permitted to carry over maximized service areas to their new digital channels,” the FCC said. “Station licensees that fail to meet these deadlines will not be able to do so.”

Also today, the FCC adopted timelines and regulations under which broadcasters are supposed to permanently indicate the DTV channels they’re planning to operate on, with the first round of channel elections to be held in December and the final round in January 2006. In addition, the FCC announced that it has eliminated-at least for the time being-a requirement that broadcasters simulcast their analog-channel programming on their digital channels during the transition to the technology.

David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television, said the channel-election decision is critical to the transition. He also said the association believes “most broadcasters will work very hard” to meet the “aggressive” power-level deadlines adopted by the FCC. “Already most broadcasters are providing DTV coverage to 92 percent of their audience,” Mr. Donovan said.