Sens. Urge FCC to Suspend Deadline

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Two U.S. senators want the digital-transition deadline relaxed for TV
stations serving 64 percent of U.S. television markets, claiming that the
current May 2002 deadline puts rural broadcasters in untenable economic
position.

The request for a new deadline came in a June 22 letter from Montana Sens.
Conrad Burns, a Republican, and Max Baucus, a Democrat, to Federal
Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell. The FCC placed the letter in
the public record July 17.

'We believe the small-market broadcasters need more time before being
required to transmit a digital signal,' the senators said, adding that Powell
should 'strongly consider' their request.

The nation's 1,288 commercial TV stations have until next May to launch
digital signals, but only 201, or 16 percent, have made the switch. About 300
public stations have until May 2003 to do the same.

Specifically, Burns and Baucus asked the FCC to suspend the May 2002 deadline
for all TV stations in markets ranked No. 75 and smaller. The U.S. has 211 TV
markets.

But the lawmakers did not recommend a specific new deadline -- only that the
FCC shouldn't require digital-TV transmission in rural markets 'until such time
that the marketplace and sound business models allow for the successful adoption
of digital television.'

Burns and Baucus said rural markets need more time because sparsely populated
regions don't provide the same economic base as congested cities to cover the
cost of digital transmitters. They also mentioned that states like Montana have
long winters that shorten the construction season to place transmitters at high
altitudes.

'The transmitter site in Butte, Mont., received two-and-a-half feet of snow
in June this year. Future deadlines for construction should be early fall, and
not spring dates,' the senators wrote.

The National Association of Broadcasters has been telling the FCC that
perhaps hundreds of local TV stations will fail to meet the May 2002 deadline
even though they have known about it since early 1997.

Instead of seeking a blanket waiver, the NAB is urging the FCC to establish a
simplified process for granting waivers on a case-by-case
basis.

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