DTV Nightlight Bill Becomes Law
Stations will be able to air emergency and educational information over analog past Feb. 17, 2009.
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/23/2008 9:34:00 AM
It's official. TV stations who are able to will get an extra 30 days past the Feb. 17, 2009 DTV transition date to broadcast emergency and DTV education information on their analog channels.
The White House confirms that the president signed the DTV nightlight bill into law today, Dec. 23.
The bill, actually the Short-term Analog Flash and Emergency Readiness (or SAFER) act was proposed by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA) and Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif). It passed both the Senate and House by unanimous consent.
Broadcasters who elect to broadcast the education messages will need to air them in both Spanish and English. They will also get any emergency weather or public safety information that airs on the digital signal.
It has several caveats. For one thing, it simply permits, rather than mandates, the analog grace period, and says stations could not stay on if they interfered with other stations or with emergency communications.
The FCC is directed by Jan. 15 to come up with a plan to implement the voluntary program.
Broadcasters pushed for the grace period, and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has said he thought it was a good idea.
Not withstanding Mr. Smith's comments, if the FCC "requests" that any station that participates in this 30 day SAFER Act, broadcast only educational messages and emergency messages, I think that this "request" would be strictly followed by the participating broadcasters. With that said, I can't see why any broadcaster would willingly take on the extra expense of operating their analog transmitter for the extra month.
Stew Romain - 12/23/2008 8:12:00 PM EST
FCC cannot regulate "content." The bill, as I read it, grants Congressional authority to the FCC to "encourage and permit" the analog broadcast of DTV info. In the final version, somebody slipped the word "only" before the mention of the DTV information -- but neither Congress nor the FCC has the authority to regulate content, which is constitutionally protected commercial speech. So, notwithstanding someone slipping the word "only" in the final bill, if a station wants to supply its regular programming along with a DTV crawl, it would have the constitutionally protected right to do so. To say otherwise would be to somehow allow the FCC to regulate content, which the Constitution prohibits.
NTIA/FCC, tell me if you have another interpretation. If so, you would seem to be walking on thin ice, constitutionally speaking.
Adam Smith - 12/23/2008 5:04:00 PM EST
There is nothing I can see in the language of the bill that prohibits stations from airing their full programming lineup on their analog feed. This story makes it sound like the bill specifies that only DTV and emergency info can be broadcast, when in fact it appears that the language of the law allows stations to continue "business as usual" in analog for 30 days as long as they provide DTV and emergency info. Can you please clarify this in an updated version?
Adam Smith - 12/23/2008 4:29:00 PM EST
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