In a long-delayed public meeting, the FCC took a number of steps late Wednesday to advance the DTV transition.
The commissioners voted unanimously, but not without some dissent and caveat, to adopt the items.
No discouraging word was heard on the unanimous decision to require analog TV sets to carry labels letting viewers know they will need to be modified for over-the-air reception after the transition.
The FCC proposed the following label: "This television receiver has only an analog broadcast tuner and will require a converter box after February 17, 2009, to receive over-the-air broadcasts with an antenna because of the Nation’s transition to digital broadcasting. Analog-only TVs should continue to work as before with cable and satellite TV services, gaming consoles, VCRs, DVD players, and similar products."
There was less unanimity on a proposal to define signal degradation and viewability as it pertains to cable's carriage of a broadcaster's TV signal after the transition to digital.
The FCC is seeking comment on whether requiring cable to carry TV station signals in both analog and digital formats after the transition is necessary to meet the 1992 Cable Act's requirement that cable must deliver a "viewable" signal of any station opting for mandatory carriage (must-carry).
Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein pointed out that the commission had earlier rejected the dual carriage proposal, and should "fully consider the consequences" before trying again.
He also suggested there was some disconnect with the FCC forcing either dual carriage or expensive set-top converters (to covert its digital signal to analog) while at the same time not allowing cable to provide lower-cost set tops.
Commissioner Robert McDowell said that while the commission needs to insure that cable subs get access to higher quality DTV signals, he said he wished the commission had refrained from offering any specific proposals.
He also said he had questions about mandating carriage in both analog and digital.
Chairman Kevin Martin did not share those reservations, saying that cable should not be allowed to "just cut off signals" and said that he didn't think that consumers should be "forced to rent a set-top box."
Finally, the FCC took the first steps toward guidelines for its fall auction of analog TV spectrum in the UHF band being reclaimed in the transition to digital. The commission proposes a mix of geographic sizes for the parcels of spectrum being auctioned, and sets build-out requirements on winning bidders. It also put out for comment a proposal by Frontline Wireless to create a public-private interoperable emergency communications network.
Commissioner Michael Copps said he did not oppose putting the Frontline proposal out for comment, and called the proposal a "tantalizing prospect," but only if it worked. He said he was not at all sure that a dual-purpose network "will actually deliver the network they so desperately need." He said he needed assurances the network would work for public safety.
The proposal is for a network run for commercial purposes but turned over to public safety in times of catastrophe. Copps said he was concerned about the commercial customer trapped in a building whose call wouldn't go through because the network had been turned over to public safety.