Washington -- The leaders of the National Association of Broadcasters
concluded a two-day meeting here Wednesday without adopting a proposal seeking a
change in the digital-TV-rollout schedule imposed by federal regulators.
By May 2002, all 1,288 commercial TV stations are required to be airing
digital signals. The deadline for noncommercial stations is May 2003. As of May
15, 195 commercial stations were on the air in digital in 65 markets, according
to the NAB.
According to a published report, the NAB board was planning to use this
week's meeting in part to move forward with a plan to ask the Federal
Communications Commission to relax the 2002 deadline for stations in small
The NAB released minutes of the meeting showing that digital-transition
issues were discussed but containing nothing in connection with asking the FCC
to move the timetable.
All TV stations are required to return their analog spectrum in 2006 for
auction by the FCC if more than 85 percent of households in a market have the
equipment to view digital-TV signals.
On a panel at the National Show in Chicago Tuesday, Roy Stewart, chief of the
FCC's Mass Media Bureau, said the 2002 and 2003 transition dates were aggressive
and probably had more to do with budget policy than with the realities of
consumer adoption of digital TVs and set-top boxes.
But Stewart added that there is currently no sentiment within the FCC to move
the deadlines because such a step would remove the pressure on broadcasters,
Hollywood studios, set makers and cable operators to come to terms on
must-carry, copy protection, interoperability and tuner mandates.
'There are some concerns we have if you start moving dates back,' Stewart
said, 'because if you do that too prematurely or perhaps announce why policies
have wavered over dates, then you may lose the ability to have the component
parts of the industries sit down together and try to work out that litany of
Stewart also echoed the view of FCC chairman Michael Powell that the agency
was well aware that the shift from analog to digital would not necessarily fit
within certain deadlines.
'I don't think any firm decisions have been made at the FCC to move dates
back in any way right now,' Stewart said. 'If we face something down the road,
then I think we'll face it.'
Susan Eid, Powell's top cable and mass-media adviser, follow Stewart by
saying, 'On the dates, it may have been unrealistic to assume that we could have
transitioned to digital in such a short period of time.'