Copps walking the DTV beat


Dislocation and confusion are coming on February 17th and 18th,” said Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps. He noted that it will be mitigated by not being universal, since Congress extended the hard deadline until June – the correct decision, in his estimation. But with the original DTV conversion date less than a week away, and with nearly 600 stations planning to have abandoned analog broadcasting on or before that date, has had little time to think about anything else. He said that without point any fingers, the FCC’s approach may have been a little too casual until last summer when the enormity of the task seemed to hit the Commission all at once and it emerged from its “digital cocoon."

And it’s official — Barack Obama signed the new 6/12/09 deadline into law last night.

On the plus side, as of now 63% of all full-power television stations plan on maintaining side-by-side analog and digital program streams through the new deadline. He thanked them for their public spirit.

Not all of the stations planning to shut off their analog next week may be allowed to actually do so. Right now, Copps said the FCC is trying to identify the most vulnerable markets, loosely defined as one where all stations are dropping analog, or where all stations with local news exit analog – he said such markets will receive special scrutiny. Stations will have to have compelling reasons for dropping analog. The Commission is trying to develop guidance on when permission to drop analog will be approved or denied, but at this point it is a work in progress.

“The next week will be among the most difficult, I suppose, in the history of the Commission. I don’t think we’re going to make lemonade out of lemons,” he said, but hopes to at least keep problems to a minimum.

He said he does not know why President Obama has not yet autographed the bill extending the hard deadline but is not worried about it; has also said he would be “absolutely astounded” if the deadline is extended again past June, since legislators key to getting it passed have indicated a strong objection to a second extension. He also noted that the stalled coupon program remains stalled.

The next open meeting is scheduled for 3/5/09, and like the last one, will focus on DTV.

RBR/TVBR observation: If you like your FCC distracted to the point of tunnel vision, it seems that holding one of these DTV transitions is a great way to ratchet up to that level of distraction. We were frankly amazed at how quickly the Copps FCC turned around the chart of stations opting for early analog shut-down, so we’d have to commend him for trying to take what may be an overwhelming situation and ratcheting it down to merely whelming.