On May 18, 2007, the Federal Communications Commission released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) as part of its third periodic review concerning the conversion of the nation's television broadcast stations from analog to digital broadcasting (DTV). Comments are due August 8, with replies due August 23.
The NPRM asks what rule and policy changes are necessary to ensure that television stations can fully transition to DTV by the statutory deadline of February 17, 2009. The NPRM also provides a progress report on the transition, describes the status and readiness of stations to complete the transition, and addresses certain other issues relating to the transition. The following is a brief summary of the key issues raised in the NPRM.
As an initial matter, the Commission proposes to require all stations to file a progress report with the Commission by December 1, 2007. This progress report is meant to supply the Commission with information sufficient to appropriately assess the status of the transition.
While the Commission discussed the difficulties that will be faced by stations with different pre-and post-transition channels, it tentatively concluded that February 17, 2009 will be the final construction deadline for almost all stations, including: (1) those stations whose DTV channels for post-transition operation are not the same as their channels for pre-transition operation (i.e., stations that are returning to their analog channel or receiving a new digital channel); (2) stations with the same pre- and post- channel; and (3) those stations facing unique construction challenges (i.e., where the digital antenna must be swapped with the analog antenna). The Commission proposes that those stations that were awarded either an extension in the Construction Deadline Extension Order or a waiver in the Use-or-Lose Order must complete construction by the deadline established in those orders.
Next, the NPRM addresses the issue of extensions or waivers of the DTV construction deadline. The Commission proposes that before the transition, it will significantly restrict the situations in which a station will be able to obtain a further extension of time to build its digital facility. Following the transition, the FCC proposes to apply the current "tolling" standard to requests for extensions of time to construct. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Commission proposes to allow stations moving to a new post-transition channel to transition early, provided that such operations will not cause impermissible interference with other stations.
The Commission also seeks comment on circumstances in which a station may be allowed to reduce or terminate its analog service prior to February 17, 2009, in order to facilitate the construction of its final DTV facility on its post-transition channel. The Commission also considers in the NPRM whether and under what circumstances it should accept the return of a station's pre-transition digital channel and allow that station to "flash cut" from its analog channel to its post-transition DTV channel at or prior to the end of the transition.
Those stations that need to build digital facilities different from their currently authorized facilities will need to apply for a construction permit to build these "final" digital facilities. The Commission proposes to offer expedited processing (i.e., generally within 10 days of filing) to those stations that need construction permits to build their final facilities for their post-transition channels. The Commission tentatively concluded in this NPRM that it will not accept applications to expand post-transition DTV facilities until it has completed processing of all applications to build authorized digital facilities. For those stations that want to plan ahead to facility modifications post-transition, the Commission tentatively concludes that it will adopt a new 0.5 percent interference standard that will apply to maximization applications and new channel allotments post-transition.
The Commission also seeks comment on a variety of other proposed rule changes on the following topics: station identification; DTV transmission standard; PSIP standard; Fees for Ancillary and Supplementary Services; and Coordination with MVPDs.
A copy of this NPRM can be found on the Commission's website at: http://www.fcc.gov/mb.