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FCC Moves on Transition

April 19, 2007

The FCC will consider at its April 25 open meeting a number of significant digital television transition regulatory issues. This isn't any piddling action, either. Holy bat guano!

First up is a Report and Order on Television Labeling. I'm at a loss on this. If this came out a year ago, I would have said it was about warning labels on analog-only TVs. But as of March 1, no analog-only TVs could be imported or transported in interstate commerce, and while there are still a lot of them still being being sold in stores, by the time any new labeling requirement took effect, those analog sets would have been sold out and replaced by new digital models.

So that's going to be interesting. But wait! I've just rummaged through the FCC dockets for some info on what's going on and found a couple of CERC (electronics stores lobby) "ex parte" letters documenting discussions between CERC and the FCC. CERC says it supports warning labels on analog-only TVs only if there is a suitable time period after the FCC publishes the exact label language before the requirement goes into effect. In other words, a stall, to give them time to sell out their remaining stocks of analog TVs before any labels would be required.

So what we have is the FCC acting a couple of years too late after realizing they had been snookered by TV industry promises that they would label voluntarily. Yeah, right!

Next up is the "Third Periodic Review of the Commission's Rules and Policies Affecting the Conversion to Digital Television." In this, the Commission will present a proposed rulemaking action covering any and all outstanding issues affecting the transition. These periodic reviews (at least the first and second ones) tend to be fairly comprehensive.

Hopefully they will light a serious fire under the asses of TV broadcast stations that are doing nothing to get ready for the end of the transition. Just ran across a Harris Corp. report in the FCC dockets that said many stations think the end of the transition will once again be pushed back to as late as 2015! Or that they will be able to continue broadcasting on their interim digital channels while they get around to converting.

Makes me sick.

Finally, the Commissioners will consider a "Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" that I understand will propose requiring cable companies to carry broadcasters' unmolested digital programming after the end of the transition.

That means cable companies would not be able downconvert digital high-definition programs to standard definition analog for all of their customers in order to avoid having to provide digital-to-analog converters for their subscribers who have old analog TVs.

What remains to be seen is whether the cable companies will be given the option of providing BOTH analog and digital signals (likely), and whether any customer with a digital set will have the option of taking the digital signal at the same price as analog. (For example, whether $15/month "basic" service customers could elect to take either analog SD or digital HD at the same price.)

Unfortunately, we have to wait another week for answers. What is it they say about anticipation?