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FCC Admonishes DTV 'Stragglers'

Still, the stations get another six months to go digital 10/19/2003 08:00:00 PM Eastern

The FCC last week denied DTV build-out extensions to seven stations, admonishing them for failing to get a digital signal up and running and for offering up dog-ate-my-digital-homework excuses. But it still gave them another six, closely monitored months to fix the problems.

UNLUCKY SEVEN
The stations denied DTV build-out extensions last week, and the reason the FCC was not persuaded to grant them extra time
Station Rationale
Source: Broadcasting & Cable research
WVUE-DT New Orleans Failure to file proper application for co-located tower as promised.
WSJU-DT San Juan, P.R. "Didn't realize it had to have a separate DTV antenna" is same reason given last time.
WDWL-DT Bayamon, P.R. Didn't try to build a DTV station or ask for new channel (on ch. 59, it incorrectly assumed it would be displaced by auction of chs. 50-59 to wireless).
WICZ-DT Binghamton, N.Y. Insufficient explanation of construction delays.
WKBW-DT Buffalo, N.Y. Insufficient explanation of construction delays.
KMVU-DT Medford, Ore. Insufficient explanation of construction delays.
WJAR-DT Providence, R.I. Insufficient explanation of construction delays.

The admonishment strategy, a sort of probation with a fine looming, has been effective. The 71 stations initially admonished for failing to meet the May 1, 2002, deadline, are all on the air with a digital signal, noted several commissioners.

If the seven stations (see table) are not up in another six months, they will be fined, although how much has not been determined. After another six months, they lose their digital CP and, eventually, their analog channel as well.

A spokeswoman for one of the seven, NBC O&O WJAR-TV Providence, R.I., said, "We always have planned, and still do plan, to have the station make the digital transition by the end of the year."

WKBW-TV Buffalo N.Y., General Manager Bill Ransom said he could not comment because he had no official word from the FCC.

The admonished stations were among a group of 141 that had asked for a third extension of the deadline for all commercial stations to be airing a digital signal. But FCC Chairman Michael Powell emphasized that the commission wanted to be "tough but fair." In that spirit, the "stragglers" got the same six months as the 104 stations that convinced the FCC that their delays were either unforeseeable or beyond their control. Examples included construction and equipment-delivery delays; tower-site issues and, in the case of New York, 9/11 (WNBC-DT and WABC-DT); financial problems; and pending FCC actions.

The difference is that the seven have now been put in the "penalty phase," said Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree. "Admonishment is a serious thing. It's not as though they get another six months, and it's a nod and a wink and nobody cares."

The stations now have a black mark on their permanent record, he says. "Every time they buy and sell a station from now on, they will check a box on their application and have to explain what happened and why."

The other 30 stations seeking the extension were satellites. The FCC deferred the deadline for them until it resolves a separate proceeding.

The commission was generally looking at the glass as mostly full, pointing out that 97% of the Big Four network affiliates in the top 10 markets are on the air in digital, as are more than 80% of all commercial stations. "We are well on our way to an all-DTV world," said Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy.

Noting the small group of stations admonished, Association for Maximum Service Television President David Donovan concurred: "The bottom line is that stations, as a whole, are building out."

 

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