The FCC last week began its second periodic review of the slowly moving transition to over-the-air digital broadcasting. The agency announced it is seeking comment “on whether any adjustments to rules and policies are needed to ensure that the introduction of digital television and the recovery of spectrum at the end of the transition fully serves the public interest.”
In its first periodic review, begun in March 2000, the FCC downgraded build-out requirements, enabling stations to go on-the-air with cheaper, lower-powered transmitters. At the time, the FCC said it was allowing broadcasters additional time to gain experience with digital operation before being required to replicate or maximize their service area and select their post-transition channel.
This time the FCC is seeking comment on new channel election, replication, and maximization requirements. After the transition, broadcast television services will be limited to a “core spectrum” consisting of current television channels two through 51 (54-698 MHz). The FCC proposed May 1, 2005, as the channel election deadline for commercial and non-commercial broadcast licensees with two in-core assigned channels.
The agency also proposed to end replication and maximization interference protection for the top-four network affiliates (i.e., ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) in markets one through 100 as of July 1, 2005; and for all other commercial DTV licensees as well as non-commercial DTV licensees as of July 1, 2006. The agency also will decide whether it should adopt an intermediate signal coverage requirement beyond a broadcaster’s current obligation that would cover its community of license, expanding into nearby areas of the market.
Then there’s the matter of the much-discussed transition deadline. The law that licenses analog television service expires on December 31, 2006. The FCC said it is required to reclaim this spectrum from broadcasters unless one of three conditions is met. The FCC wants to know how it should interpret the extension criteria. Among those questions is how it should interpret the test to determine if at least 85 percent of viewers have access to digital broadcast signals either over-the-air or through a subscription service (cable and satellite).
The FCC also said it will visit the rarely mentioned subject of broadcaster public interest requirements in the digital era. “Specifically, how should public interest obligations be applied to broadcasters that choose to multicast (e.g., the application of the FCC’s children's television rules or the statutory political broadcasting rules in a multicast environment?)” an FCC statement asked.
Other issues to be resolved by the FCC include:
Should the FCC retain, revise or remove the requirement that licensees simulcast a certain percentage of their analog channel on their DTV channel?
Should the FCC assist non-commercial television stations in the transition?
Are there labeling requirements for TV-related consumer equipment that would assist the transition and protect consumers?
Should the FCC license the use of multiple lower-powered transmitters, similar to cellular telephone systems, called distributed transmission systems?
Should broadcasters be required to include Program System and Information Protocol (PSIP) information within their digital signals to ensure the availability of certain functions?
Should the FCC adopt digital V-chip requirements?
What station identification requirements should apply to digital stations?
Comments are due by April 14 and replies are due by May 14.
A full text of the FCC’s review is available for download at www.fcc.gov.