FCC Implements DTV 'Nightlight' Bill

Votes to implement bill allowing broadcasters to continue analog broadcasts 30 days past Feb. 17 shut-off

Posted 8:48 PM ET
As expected, and per congressional mandate, the FCC Thursday voted to implement the "analog nightlight" bill.

The legislation, which passed last month by unanimous consent in both Houses, allows broadcasters to remain on the air for 30 days past the Feb. 17, 2009, deadline for going all-digital with emergency and DTV transition information. It is unclear what will need to happen if Congress moves that date, as it is currently trying to do, though it may be as simple as Congress changing the effective date on the bill.

According to a source familiar with the item, which had not been released at press time, it allowed more stations to participate than originally proposed, will allow broadcasters to solicit limited sponsorships for the information on the analog signal, and will not require stations to broadcast all 30 days. The 826 broadcasters that the source said now qualify to keep the nightlight on will also have an easy route to requesting to do so, essentially sending an e-mail to the FCC.

Whatever Congress winds up doing about the date--Senator Jay Rockefeller has proposed moving it to June 12--the FCC was under a statutory obligation to come up with the implementation regime by Jan. 15. It already tentatively outlined its plan, but needed to seek comment on an expedited basis, which it did, and to get the item voted by today, which it also did.

In announcing its initial implementation regime, which FCC engineers had been working on before the bill passed, the FCC said that it had identified stations in 136 out of the 210 markets where a nightlight service would not interfere with digital signals or otherwise not be able to provide a signal.

But the FCC also said that was a conservative estimate of the necessary separation between channels. The commission also said it would look for other ways stations could provide the nightlight service in those markets, including encouraging a low-power station that was not making the transition to digital to transmit the information (low-power stations are not required to switch to digital on Feb. 17).