The Nation’s Transition to Digital Television & not telling the Whole Story

The Nation’s Transition to Digital TV & not telling the whole story is the subject of this Big B File . . .

     On February 17, 2009 at 12:01 a.m. (local time), all television broadcasters in the United States of America will be making the final transition to digital . . . or will they?radio-tower

     According to the public service announcements that have run and are still running by the nation’s full-power broadcasters, cable and broadcast networks, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), nonprofit organizations, and other community groups and local governments, among others . . . you and many others in this country would logically say that I’ll all the stations you’re watching right now will shut off their analog transmitters at that time . . . 2/17/09 at 12:01 a.m… and we’ll all be broadcasting in digital only after that time. Just take a look at this notice is given to customers who buy along televisions. Sets in places like Goodwill, The Salvation Army, etc.

CONSUMER ALERT

      This television receiver has only an analog broadcast tuner and will require a converter box after February 17, 2009, to receive over-the-air broadcasts with an antenna because of the Nation’s transition to digital broadcasting. Analog-only TVs should continue to work as before with cable and satellite TV services, gaming consoles, VCRs, DVD players, and similar products. For more information, call the Federal Communications Commission at 1-888-225-5322 (TTY: 1-888-835-5322) or visit the Commission’s digital television website at: www.DTV.gov.

        Unfortunately, this announcement similar to what others using is not completely accurate. What these notices and public service announcements don’t tell you is that only the full power stations are mandated by federal law to make the switch to High Definition Television (HDTV) on February 17, 2009. The Low Power (LPTV), Translator, booster, and Class A television stations are not mandated to make the switch on February 17th with no deadline of their own to make the transition to digital television.

     The transition to a high definition television began in earnest in 1996 with the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. That act mandated that broadcasters convert their signals to Digital (HDTV) TV within a certain period of time. The original date was December 31, 2006, but was later pushed back several times before finally being set to February 17, 2009. The rest of the time line went like this (according to the website Digital TV Primer):

Time Line (Updated July 2, 2006)

  • 1996 — Congress passed Telecommunications Act of 1996 which established December 31, 2006, as the end of the transition to a new ATSC digital television standard. On that date authority to broadcast via the old NTSC analog standard would end.
  • 1997 — Congress adopted caveats to that hard date to ensure that no more than 15 percent of American TV households would be cut off from TV before analog transmissions ended in any market.
  • May 1, 1999 — Top four networks in the top ten markets required to have their digital channels up and running (although not at full power and not full time).
  • November 1, 1999 — Top four networks in markets 11-30 required to have constructed their digital stations.
  • May 1, 2002 — Remaining commercial broadcast stations required to be transmitting a digital signal.
  • April 1, 2003 — Broadcast stations required to transmit digitally 50 percent of the time that they broadcast analog programming.
  • May 1, 2003 — All broadcast stations’ digital channels required to be up and running (these requirements turned out to be a goal, not universally met).
  • April 1, 2004 — Broadcast stations required to transmit digitally 75 percent of the time that they broadcast analog programming.
    • Cable operators must supply upon request to their customers, HD STBs with functional Firewire 1394 connectors.▸ July 1, 2004 — 50 percent of models of DTV receivers in sets 36″ and larger that are labeled “Digital Cable Ready” must have DVI or HDMI interfaces using HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection) technology.
    • 50 percent of new televisions 36″ and larger are required to have integrated over-the-air digital tuners
  • September 7, 2004 — FCC releases Report and Order, Second Periodic Review of Rules and Policies Affecting the Conversion to Digital Television (Mostly technical rules, but among other things, it repealed a requirement for simulcasting and rejected proposals for consumer labeling of analog-only sets).
  • December 31, 2004 — Commercial broadcast stations required to increase signal strength to meet “principle community coverage.”
  • February 2005 — First round channel elections for broadcast stations with “in-core” channels (i.e. 2-51). Channels 52-69 will be surrendered at the end of the transition and those frequencies (698-806 MHz) will be auctioned off by the government or transferred for use by public safety agencies.
  • April 1, 2005 — Broadcast stations required to transmit digitally 100 percent of the time that they broadcast analog programming.
  • June 2005 — FCC Media Bureau issues DTV channel election conflict letters.
  • July 1, 2005 — all HD STBs must also have DVI (digital visual interface) or HDMI (high definition multimedia interface).
    • 100 percent of models of DTV receivers in sets 36″ and larger and 50 percent in sets 25″ to 35″ that are labeled “Digital Cable Ready” must have DVI or HDMI interfaces using HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection) technology; any set labeled “Digital Cable Ready” must also include an integrated over-the-air digital tuner.
    • 100 percent of new televisions 36″ and larger are required to have integrated digital tuners; 50 percent of new televisions 25″ to 35″ are required to have integrated over-the-air digital tuners.
    • Use-it-or-lose-it deadline for the top four networks’ stations in the 100 largest TV markets to go to full digital signal coverage (a replication and maximization protection deadline).
  • August 2005 — Broadcast stations file with FCC first round channel election interference conflict forms.
  • September 2005 — Second round of channel elections for broadcast stations.
  • October 2005 — FCC completes second round channel election interference conflict analysis; Media Bureau issues conflict letters.
  • November 1, 2005 — The Senate and the House of Representatives each pass their own version of a new digital TV transition bill. The House version would end the transition on December 31, 2008, and the Senate version would set that date as April 7, 2009. Each would have a subsidy for digital-to-analog set-top-boxes.
  • December 2005 — Broadcast stations submit second round conflict decision forms to FCC.
  • December 31, 2005 — Non-commercial broadcast stations required to increase signal strength to meet “principle community coverage.”
  • February 8, 2006 — Digital TV Transition Act of 2005 signed into law, establishing February 17, 2009 as the last day for NTSC/analog TV broadcasts.
  • February 2006 — Third round channel elections for stations without confirmed channels.
  • March 1, 2006 — All new televisions 25″ to 35″ are required to have integrated over-the-air digital tuners.
  • March 2006 — FCC to resolve third round DTV channel election interference conflicts.
  • July 1, 2006 — 100 percent of models of DTV receivers in sets 25″ to 35″ that are labeled “Digital Cable Ready” must have DVI or HDMI interfaces using HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection) technology.
    • Use-it-or-lose-it deadline for all smaller commercial stations plus non-commercial stations to go to full digital signal coverage (a replication and maximization protection deadline, with caveats depending on channel assignment).
  • August 2006 — FCC completes channel elections, issues new DTV Table of Allotments. That is, all TV broadcast stations have their final digital channel numbers.
  • March 1, 2007 — Deadline for all television sets (13″ and larger) to include integrated ATSC (digital) tuners.
  • January 1, 2008 — First day that consumers may request $40 government subsidy coupons for a digital-to-analog converter box.
  • February 17, 2009 — Hard cutoff date for analog TV broadcasts set by the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005.
  • March 31, 2009 — Last day for consumers to request $40 government subsidy coupons for a digital-to-analog converter box.

     Here are some serious issues in relation to the Digital transition when it comes to low-power, Class A, and TV translator stations. As I said earlier, Low Power (LPTV), Translator, booster, and Class A television stations are not mandated to make the switch to HDTV on February 17, 2009 and have no set date for these stations to make the switch themselves. Unlike Full Power stations, Low Power (LPTV), Translator, booster, and Class A television stations were not automatically assigned a second digital channel by the FCC like the Full Power stations were in the late 1990s.

     Up until the past few years, Low Power (LPTV), Translator, booster, and Class A television stations were virtually ignored by the FCC and organizations like the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and were left on their own to find a second digital channel. Not only that, but if a Low Power station was on a channel that has been assigned to a full-power station as their digital channel, they have no choice other than find a new channel, file a displacement relief application (without FCC help and using their own funds), or cease operations altogether a.k.a. shut down permanently (go dark /silent) . . . just ask Bob Suffel, Former owner & General Manager of KBTV-LP in Sacramento, California, which had to shut down his station in February 2000 after being bumped by KOVR-DT (then owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, now by CBS).

     Currently, there is no set deadline for all the Low Power (LPTV), Translator, booster, and Class A television stations to switch to Digital TV . . . even though FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin has suggested in a letter to National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and others a goal of having 2012 as the date of the switch to digital for low power stations.

     When the $40 government subsidy coupon program began one year ago, it was only for Converter Boxes that did not have the analog pass-through capability . . . meaning that LPTVs cannot be viewed before and after the transition, whether the converter box is on or off. As a result of this, the Community Broadcasters Association (CBA) filed a lawsuit on March 26, 2008, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. In the lawsuit, the Community Broadcasters Association said that all but six of the converter boxes that were lacking the Analog Pass-Through capability violate the All-Channel Receiver Act (ACRA), 47 U.S.C. §303(s), and Sections stations 15.115(c) and 15.117(b) of the FCC’s Rules. The Big B Files believes that the CBA was correct in this regard and that a recall should be issued in this regard for the Noncompliant converter boxes to be exchanged for ACRA compliant boxes as well. The Lawsuit was dismissed in Early May and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled against the CBA in Early May and CBA had said they have no plans to appeal the case. The good news is that the vast majority of the converter boxes out now do have this capability.

     As of Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 7:51 pm CST, only the following stations have a digital channel in the St. Louis, Mo Metro area:

  • KUMO-LD
  • K23IR-D
  • KPTN-LD
  • K49FC

     The Big B Files says that the FCC must assign a digital channel to the Low Power (LPTV), Translator, booster, and Class A television stations in the country, set a hard date for the switchover to digital and provide funds to those who need funds to make the transition to HDTV and allow some of those stations to upgrade to Full Power status.

     That is the Big B Files. Click on the comments link below and let me know what you think… I’m Bryan Hewing.

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