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FCC Issues 2nd Call

Washington – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) once again is looking for public comment on the digital transition, including rulemaking for digital TV labeling requirements.

The commission recently issued a second Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) 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 serve the public interest.

Earlier TV labeling requirement drew the opposition of key consumer electronics retailers who feared that labels proposed by the Consumer Electronics Association and others would continue to confuse consumers. Now with progress being made on digital capable interoperability standards, the FCC is expected to start looking at such issues as labels for digital cable-ready TVs.

As part of an earlier periodic review in March 2000, the FCC revised its rules and policies to help expand the number of DTV stations on the air, particularly in heavily populated areas.

At that time, the FCC adopted modified build-out requirements enabling stations to go on the air with less-expensive lower-powered digital facilities. It also gave broadcasters additional time to get up to speed with the new technology before requiring them to simulcast their analog content on the new DTV station, and select their permanent DTV channel.

After the transition, broadcast television stations will be limited to a ‘core spectrum’ consisting of current television channels 2 through 51 (54-698 MHz).

Under consideration this time is a possible easing of digital simulcasting requirements that TV stations duplicate analog programming on their digital signals. At issue is whether the simulcasting requirement would stifle the development of innovative digital content.

Currently, TV stations must duplicate 50 percent of their analog programming on their digital signals beginning April 1.

The simulcast requirement increases to 75 percent in April 2004 and 100 percent in April 2005.

The FCC will also consider whether it should adopt an intermediate-coverage-area requirement for expanding signals beyond the community of license, and whether to eliminate interference protection in uncovered areas when stations don’t reach their maximum allotted coverage area or replicate their analog coverage area.

Other topics the FCC would like to cover include digital broadcasters’ public-interest obligations, how to assist noncommercial stations’ transition to digital, feasibility of multiple transmission sites, V-chip requirements, and the extent of electronic-program-guide-coding requirements.

The commission will also look at the requirement in the Communications Act that licenses for analog television service expire on Dec. 31, 2006, when the FCC is required to reclaim the spectrum from broadcasters unless one of three conditions is met.

The FCC would like comments on how the FCC should interpret the extension criteria.

Comments are due April 14, 2003, and replies are due May 14, 2003.