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Time for a waiver

In its pitch for digital must-carry, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has suggested that failure to meet the 2002 deadline for building DTV stations, or 2003 in the case of noncoms, will mean that violators "will lose their digital licenses … [and] must also cease current analog operations as well."

Frankly, we can't find that anywhere in the FCC rules. As far as we can tell, there doesn't appear to be any express penalty for failing to convert by the deadlines. It's like those Speed Checked By Radar signs when there is no radar. In the case of DTV, everybody knows there is no radar.

Nonetheless, companies whose fortunes ride on a piece of paper from the FCC shouldn't go around ignoring the agency's wishes. To stay in the FCC's good graces, hundreds of stations will file applications asking for more time. If the NAB survey released last week is accurate, that queue at the FCC's front door will include more than half the stations in the 100-plus markets.

The FCC has made it clear it will work with stations that are making good-faith efforts, and a liberal waiver policy is all but assured. As a practical matter, yanking the plug on hundreds of TV stations in the country would penalize viewers far too much to be even in the realm of possibility anyway. But without a dead in deadline and with the reasons for extensions well understood, what's the point in not granting a blanket waiver? It's time for the FCC to bite the bullet, save some trees (all those individual applications) and grant a blanket waiver.

Reality check

Just when we're convinced we've heard everything, we are disabused of that notion.

Such was the case with a new bill from Democratic Congressman and Telecommunications Subcommittee member Eliot Engel of New York. Just before heading off for summer break, Engel proposed to turn the FCC into a complaint department for groups that feel they have been portrayed in "unfavorable" ways in the news or entertainment media. Just what we need, another reason for people to feel victimized. We don't know this, but, since Engel's district includes the Bronx and Yonkers, our suspicion is that this bill is an attempt to appease constituents unhappy with The Sopranos' portrayal of Italian-Americans.

We're pretty sure this bill doesn't stand a Popsicle-brand frozen confection's chance in purgatory of going anywhere, but, as we said at the outset, we are constantly amazed at what legislators will tell their constituents the government can do. Yes, the FCC oversees communications. Yes, the FCC reports to Congress. No, that doesn't mean, if you don't like something you see on TV, you can sic the FCC on it.

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