The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently released its latest set of Digital Television (DTV) transition rules for broadcast stations that have yet to terminate their analog signals. The Third Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration (Order) provided detailed consumer education, viewer notification mandates, and filing requirements for commercial and non-commercial stations that will be terminating their analog signal in the coming months.
The Order continues the FCC’s effort to provide updated rules that account for both the change in the national transition date – from February 17 to June 12 – and for the fact that hundreds of full-power stations have already completed their switch to digital TV. This summary, provided by NAB’s legal department, narrows the Order to its most salient requirements. However, we encourage stations, especially those stations that will be terminating analog service before June 12, to consult their station counsel to ensure they comply with all FCC requirements.
DTV Consumer Education Rules
- Stations that remain subject to consumer education requirements must be in compliance with new rules by April 1, 2009.
- Effective March 13, 2009, consumer education requirements no longer apply for stations that have terminated analog service, with some exceptions. For example, the following digital-only stations must still comply: (1) stations operating on a “phased transition” basis pursuant to special temporary authority; or (2) are not on their final facility/channel due to interference. For specific advice, please consult with your station counsel.
- All stations, regardless of whether they have terminated analog operations, must file a quarterly consumer education report on FCC Form 388 by April 10, 2009.
- Stations that are no longer required to engage in consumer education may note in their comment boxes that they ceased consumer education on March 13. For stations ending their consumer education campaigns in March, this will be the final FCC Form 388 filing.
- All other stations will continue to file consumer education reports on a quarterly basis. FCC Form 388 will be revised to reflect the new requirements discussed below.
- Click here for a comprehensive chart of the DTV consumer education rules.
Analog Service Terminations
A. For All Stations That Have Not Yet Terminated Analog Transmissions
- No commercial station will be allowed to terminate prior to April 16.
- However, some noncommercial educational stations may terminate before April 16, but not before March 27, if they can certify that they must terminate due to significant financial hardship.
B. For Stations That Will Terminate Analog Between April 16 and June 11
- Viewer Notification Requirements Apply
- Stations that choose to terminate before June 12 must air viewer notifications for the 30 days prior to the planned termination date in accordance with the requirements set forth in the Third DTV Periodic Report and Order.
- Viewer notifications are in addition to, and not lieu of, consumer education requirements explained in detail below.
- Viewer notifications must air at least four times a day, including at least one in prime time and must include: (1) the station’s call sign and community of license; (2) the fact that the station is planning to reduce or terminate its analog operations before the transition date; (3) the firm date of the reduction or termination; (4) what viewers can do to continue to receive the station, i.e., how and when the station’s digital signal can be received; (5) information about the availability of digital-to-analog converter boxes in their service area; and (6) the street address, email address (if available), and phone number of the station where viewers may register comments or request information.
- Analog Termination Notification is Binding. Once a station chooses a specific early termination date, it may not change that date to any other date prior to June 12. However, stations may at any time prior to five days before the elected termination date choose to delay the termination to June 12.
C. Special Rules Apply for Major Network Affiliates That Choose to Terminate Analog Before June 12
- The FCC deems major network affiliate stations – those that carry NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX network programming – to be particularly critical sources of local news and information.
- Major network affiliates that choose to terminate early must have included one of the following in their March 17 Analog Service Termination Notifications:
- A certification that another major network affiliate will provide full analog service to at least 90 percent of the population in the station’s Grade B service area; OR
- A certification that the station will comply with the special public interest conditions (detailed below); OR
- A demonstration of extreme technical or financial difficulties by filing a showing of extraordinary exigent circumstances.
- For major network affiliates that cannot certify that at least one other major network affiliate will provide analog service that covers at least 90 percent of its analog Grade B contour, these special public interest conditions apply:
- Stations must certify that viewers within at least 90 percent of the station’s Grade B contour will receive at least “enhanced nightlight” service on an analog channel from one station in the market, or some combination of “enhanced nightlight” and “full” analog service from a major network affiliate (an explanation of enhanced nightlight service appears below).
- Stations must, alone or with other stations in the market, provide at least one location and sufficient staff for a consumer “walk-in” help center.
- Stations must provide a local or toll-free consumer referral telephone number to the FCC, and must staff this number with personnel that can answer complex viewer questions, particularly about reception.
- No later than 30 days prior to its analog termination, the station will provide the FCC with the following information: the address and operating hours of the “walk-in” help center, the phone number of and operating hours applicable to the consumer referral telephone number that the station will be relying on to meet these obligations, and the name and phone number of the station’s point of contact for these issues. This information was to be submitted by way of an update to the Analog Service Termination Notification that stations were required to file by March 17 informing the FCC of their analog termination date.
- The Order includes detailed requirements for the walk-in center. For major network affiliates that choose to terminate analog transmissions early, we encourage those stations to read the complete Order and consult with station counsel.
What is Enhanced Nightlight Service?
“Enhanced nightlight” service constitutes the broadcast, by a major network affiliate, of an analog signal providing, at a minimum, DTV transition and emergency information, as well as local news and public affairs programming. Both DTV transition and emergency information must be accessible to the disability community (e.g., broadcast notices must have an audio component, as well as being closed or open captioned).
The DTV transition information on “enhanced nightlight” channels must be provided in Spanish and English, and must include demonstrations of converter box installations and antenna setups; the location and operating hours of all walk-in DTV help centers in the market (including centers not affiliated with the station); the FCC Call Center telephone and TTY numbers; the local or toll-free consumer referral telephone number provided by the station; and other helpful information about the DTV transition.
“Enhanced nightlight” service is different than the congressionally-prescribed “analog nightlight” service that some stations transitioning on June 12 may choose to provide. First, “enhanced nightlight” only applies to major network affiliates that are terminating analog service prior to June 12. Second, the local news, public affairs, and other non-emergency programming on “enhanced nightlight” channels are not subject to the programming restrictions of the Analog Nightlight Act, and as such may include commercial advertising.
- DTS Deadline Extended: The FCC extended until December 14, 2009 the deadline for accepting DTV distributed transmission system technologies (DTS) “waiver policy” proposals to permit a station to use DTS if doing so will enable it to continue to serve its existing analog viewers who would otherwise lose service as a result of its transition to digital.
- Phased Transition STAs Extended from August 18 to October 18: Stations with phased transition special temporary authorizations (STA) have an additional two months – until October 18, 2009 – to complete their transition and operate at their full, authorized post-transition facilities. The FCC will consider further extensions on a case-by-case basis discussed further in the Order.
- FCC Form 387 must be updated no later than April 16, 2009.