FCC encourages the acceleration of the digital transition
The Federal Communications Commission is sticking to Feb. 17, 2009, for the digital TV transition, though Commissioner Michael Copps stated flatly that some broadcasters will not meet the deadline.
As an alternative to the expected failure, Copps suggested a phased transition that starts with test markets and then expands to additional markets in stages and over time, similar to the approach adopted by England and Germany as they transition from analog to digital. The idea would be to extend the deadline out for some regions.
That proposal remains unofficial, but some broadcast areas might become de facto test markets in a process that would represent instead an acceleration of the transition schedule.
The FCC has officially given broadcast stations the option to cease broadcasting on their analog channels well in advance of the existing deadline. At the same time, the FCC adopted stricter standards that will make it harder for broadcasters to qualify for extensions beyond February ’09.
This rule might affect cable operators who have must-carry obligations with stations transitioning to digital earlier than previously expected.
Copps’ pessimism about the transition is not new, but it has become more pronounced. In his most recent statement on the subject, he wished he could take back his vote approving the deadline, saying that the FCC had dallied for too long, and that the year remaining before the transition is now inadequate to do all that must be done.
“One year earlier would have been the charm,” Copps wrote. “Sometimes timing is everything, and here a year's earlier start might have been the difference between a seamless and a chaotic Digital TV Transition. Had we acted then, we could have established a far more measured and orderly switch-over process, and the difficult trade-offs and compressed schedules contained in this Order could have been largely avoided. If a dissent could legitimately be based on frustration at being stuck in this situation, I would dissent today – I am that frustrated by our inaction.”
Cable has a $200 million program to educate consumers about the transition, and the broadcast industry expects to devote another $700 million.
Separately, the cable industry is believed to be preparing a lawsuit to challenge the FCC’s December decision to limit any cable operator’s share of the overall market to 30 percent. NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow all but guaranteed a suit would be filed.
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