At deadline: FCC decides DTV issues as Kennard bows out


William Kennard, in his last major act as FCC chairman, rallied his colleagues on Friday to settle a host of DTV issues. Broadcasters came out on the short end of the stick on some major issues.

But the FCC left the most controversial issue-whether TV stations are entitled to dual carriage of analog and digital signals during the DTV transition-for Kennard's successor.

The commissioners did, however, vote to endorse the current DTV technology, another controversial issue that has split the broadcast industry.

Regarding dual carriage, which bitterly divided broadcasters and the cable industry, the FCC indicated that broadcasters have a tougher burden convincing regulators that they are entitled to "must-carry" requirements for two signals. The more obligations placed on cable carriers, the closer the government comes to violating cable's free speech rights.

But rather than saying no to the broadcasters, the FCC asked for additional comment on whether dual carriage would truly place an unconstitutional burden.

In another blow to broadcasters, the FCC said that stations' carriage rights are confined to only a single programming channel and any associated data related to that signal, not several multicast channels.

Broadcasters argued that they are entitled to the entire bit stream of a 6 MHz channel.

The FCC's ruling would give stations the entire 6 MHz only if used for one high-definition program.

The commissioners refused, however, to spell out which "program-related" material is entitled to accompany a channel with carriage rights.

Broadcasters and the cable industry are fighting over the issue in another proceeding.

On another matter, the FCC rejected the call of some broadcasters to change the modulation method from today's 8-VSB to an alternative some broadcasters say would work better with indoor reception.

The decision follows the National Association of Broadcasters' endorsement of 8-VSB two weeks ago. "I appreciate the efforts of the broadcast industry to confirm that 8-VSB will serve the needs of American consumers in the digital age," Kennard said in a statement Friday.

The commission did, however, reject a request to set DTV receiver standards.

The FCC also proposed that all sets be of a certain size, perhaps 32 inches, and include digital tuners as a way to accelerate consumer acceptance of DTV.

TV stations did get some good news. The FCC said they do not need to transmit their DTV signals to their entire analog coverage area.

But commercial stations that don't duplicate their analog coverage area by Dec. 31, 2004 will lose interference protection in the uncovered portions. Commercial stations must chose their DTV channel assignment by Dec. 31, 2003.