FCC: Stations Shouldn't Pull Analog Plug Until April 16


The FCC late Friday released its second order implementing the DTV date delay bill.

That included changing all the relevant Feb. 17, 2009 dates to June 12, but it also contained various modifications and additions to handle the second wave of analog shut-offs, including the tentative conclusion -- in a separate notice of proposed rulemaking on which there will be a brief comment period -- that stations should not pull the plug earlier than April 16.

Cable operators and other distributors also have new dates to adhere to.  

There are many more dates: March 17 (St. Patrick's Day) is when all broadcasters must inform the FCC of their plan to pull the analog plug if it is before June 12. For stations that don't, it will be assumed their changes will come June 12 and they won't be able to pull the plug earlier (absent a disaster or unforeseeable emergency). The commission said that date was only fair given that cable operators, satellite carriers, broadcasters and tower crews will need that certainty.

The FCC also declared that April 16 is the deadline for filing updated DTV Transition Status Reports that outline those transition plans.

Among the other changes in the order: an extension of the DTV education deadline for cable, satellite and telco video services to the end of the second calendar quarter; and an expansion of their notification requirements -- via bill stuffers, for example -- to include contact info for the FCC call center, coupon box program, and the suggestion that they contact their local TV station for more information. Those multichannel video providers have until April 1 to modify their information. 

The agency is also seeking comment on a plan for stations that want to go before June 12 -- but after March 14, which is the earliest the second wave of plug-pulls can resume.. It promised to release an order on those proposals by March 13  -- yet another Friday the 13th -- and suggested that any stations that do want to go before June 12 provide a proposed date in their comments, and an explanation as to why they need or want to transition early.

Broadcasters also must continue to air DTV transition information, revising it to reflect that the deadline has been extended, but that many stations have already transitioned (641 stations to be exact) and more may before the June 12 date.

Stations that have not transitioned must reset their countdown clocks, beginning 100 days out, given them yet another deadline of March 4 to consider.

The winners of the analog spectrum being reclaimed after the transition will receive another 116 days to meet construction benchmarks.

Not surprisingly, the FCC moved the Analog Nightlight Act to the June 12 deadline, which allows stations to keep an analog signal on for another 30 past the DTV transition deadline to provide emergency information. The programming can have no ads, but can carry sponsorship credits similar to those on noncommercial stations. That comes in contrast to the enhanced nightlight service being provided by at least one station in at-risk DTV markets where the rest of the network affiliates transitioned Feb. 17. That service, which must include news and public affairs progaming as well, can contain ads and had to run for 60 days past the Feb. 17 deadline.

But the FCC also tentatively concluded that it didn't want all the affiliates in a market to pull the plug before June 12, essentially proposing to extend its enhanced analog nightlight requirements through the new hard date.

The first order, which came only four days before the Feb. 17 date (Friday the 13th) had no comment period due to time constraints. That was something of an irony from a commission led by a critic of the lack of sufficient public comment on FCC decisions.

In this case, there is time for comment, albeit only five days, rather than the usual 30. It will also be a one-round cycle rather than comments followed by replies.

In addition to the order, the FCC will also seek comment on whether it should require viewers of possible service loss, the need for rescanning channels by DTV sets and converter boxes.

To check out the full order, click here.