Capital Watch

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More Noncoms Than Expected Miss DTV Deadline

More than half the county's 357 public TV stations missed last week's May 1 deadline for launching digital service, a substantially higher percentage than the one-quarter to one-third predicted six months ago. Nevertheless, a greater share of public stations are hitting the target than commercial broadcasters, two-thirds of which missed their roll-out deadline one year ago.

The reasons for public broadcasters' tardiness mirror the problems encountered by for-profits, such as technical snags and zoning fights. Unique to public stations, 20% of the laggards blamed delays in construction funds expected from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB officials acknowledged that money allocated by Congress has not been passed on entirely to public stations yet as efforts to craft disbursement criteria slowed outlays. They also noted that stations are not entitled to CPB money until they raise sufficient matching funds. Recognizing the need for expedited cash, the Commerce Department Wednesday announced $25 million in DTV grants to 56 public stations. The grants are funded from the Public Telecommunications Facilities program, which typically announces awards in September.

Public stations did get a bit of break on DTV obligations when the FCC allowed another six months before quotas for digital simulcasting of analog programming kick in. Previously, stations were to match 50% of their analog schedule in digital beginning May 1. The simulcasting mandate now starts Nov. 1. The FCC granted the delay because many stations found that meeting the simulcasting quota at the same time they were launching DTV too heavy a burden.

MPAA Will Fight Grokster Decision

Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti says the association will appeal a California district court decision that two Internet companies were not liable for producing the software that allows copying and streaming of music and movies over the Net. Valenti took as a victory, however, the judge's ruling that users would be liable for making and distributing illegal copies. "The court made it clear that the activity of users of file-copying networks to distribute copyrighted music, motion pictures and television programs is illegal. It's not 'sharing,' it's stealing," said Valenti. The file-sharing services, Grokster Ltd. and Streamcast Networks Inc., distribute software enabling files to be shared over "peer-to-peer" networks.

Clarification

The story titled "NAB Wants DTV Leeway" (4/28, p.20) mischaracterized the Advanced Television Systems Committee's position on cellular-phone–style distributed DTV. ATSC believes that no commission approval is needed to implement its candidate standard for synchronizing transmitters in a distributed network, but the group said other aspects, such as power levels and interference, may require FCC action. A call to grant distributed transmitters the same interference protection as primary towers should have been attributed to the Merrill Weiss Group, not ATSC.

President Signs AMBER Bill

With NAB President Eddie Fritts looking on, President George W. Bush, last Wednesday signed legislation establishing a national AMBER Alert system. "AMBER Alerts are becoming an increasingly important tool in rescuing kidnapped children," Bush said. "Every person who would think of abducting a child will know that a wide net will be cast."

The alert provides for police and media coordination to cut the time between an abduction and a bulletin alerting the public to the crime. The Alert was started by local broadcasters in the president's home state of Texas following the kidnapping and murder of 6-year-old Amber Hagerman.

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