Las Vegas -- Roy Stewart, a veteran TV-broadcasting regulator at the Federal
Communications Commission, said he was caught by surprise by the number of local
TV stations that are not meeting an FCC deadline.
About 65 percent, or 856 local TV stations, are not planning to meet the
FCC's May 1 deadline to commence digital broadcasting. The deadline was set five
years ago when the agency gave each station a free license collectively worth
billions of dollars.
'I sort of felt maybe if we would have half that amount, that would be a high
number. So I was surprised we had such a large number of them,' said Stewart,
former chief of the Mass Media Bureau, who currently heads the Office of
Broadcast License Policy in the newly formed Media Bureau.
Stewart spoke at a forum here Sunday sponsored by the American Bar
Association, the Federal Communications Bar Association and the National
Association of Broadcasters.
He said 810 stations sought extensions and 476 were granted six-month
reprieves. Another 354 were recently sent letters asking for additional
justification for their inability to meet the deadline.
'When responses come back, we will analyze them,' Stewart added.
According to the NAB, 271 stations are transmitting digital signals, 62 of
them public broadcasters. Based on the NAB's numbers, another 244 commercial
stations are scheduled to go on the air in digital by May 1.
Generally, FCC officials have said that they understood that TV stations
confronted financial, technical and legal obstacles as the May 1 deadline
Stewart indicated that the agency might not be so accommodating if stations
already granted six-month extensions seek additional time.
'If you come in after six months and say what you said before, I am not so
sympathetic to that,' he added.