Archive for March 16, 2009

FCC tightens rules for DTV switchover


TV stations that want to stop analog broadcasts before the government-mandated DTV transition on June 12 must comply with stiff new rules just issued by the Federal Communications Commission.

Stations have been allowed to switch to all-digital broadcasts before that date, and more than 600 have already done so. The new rules prohibit any further analog-to-digital switchovers until April 16 and require stations to air viewer notifications for at least 30 days before they cut their analog signals. The only exceptions are noncommercial stations that can demonstrate significant financial hardship. Stations that have not already gone all-digital will be required to file a binding notice of their transition date by tomorrow, March 17.

The FCC says the new rules are meant to protect and prepare consumers while giving broadcasters the flexibility to switch to digital before the June 12 deadline. The new rules were prompted in part by lessons learned on February 17—the original DTV deadline—when about a third of the nation’s nearly 1,800 full-power broadcasters flipped off their traditional analog signals and went all-digital, according to the FCC.

Among the new rules:

  • Signal loss: Stations must provide on-air and other notifications of potential signal loss if two percent or more of their analog viewers are expected to lose service. More than 200 stations fall into this category, according to the agency.
  • Antennas: All stations must educate consumers on the use of antennas and the possible need for additional or different equipment if broadcasts are moving from the VHF to UHF bands.
  • Scanning: Stations must inform viewers about the importance of periodically using the rescan function for digital stations.

And there's more. Affiliates of the major networks—ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC —that wish to terminate analog service prior to June 12 must also ensure that at least 90 percent of their analog viewers will receive some analog service from another major network affiliate through June 12. If more than 10 percent of the analog viewers of a major network affiliate lose service from all affiliates, then that station must offer walk-in help centers, consumer referral telephone numbers, and DTV education and outreach. 

“The guiding principle here is simple —consumers deserve to know the truth,” says Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps. “They will forgive a lot, but they won't forgive being lulled into a false sense that the transition will be less disruptive or less expensive than it turns out to be.”

—Bob Williams

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