FCC's Adelstein, Broadcasters Discuss More DTV Tests

FCC Commissioner Eyes More Testing Grounds Besides Wilmington, N.C.; Plans to Speak with Chairman Kevin Martin, Other Federal Communications Commission Members

Federal Communications Commission member Jonathan Adelstein told B&C he has talked with broadcasters about setting up more short-term tests of the analog cutoff similar to ones conducted and or planned by stations in Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla.

"We should support and encourage local broadcasters to conduct these soft analog-shutoff exercises because we couldn't get other folks to step up and be willing to do what Wilmington did," he said.

What Wilmington, N.C., did -- or, more specifically, what the major network affiliates with the exception of PBS agreed to do Sept. 8 -- is to pull the plug early on analog service so that the FCC can gauge the effects of the switch to digital by full-power TV stations. The PBS station is acting as the "designated driver" of sorts, keeping the analog light on in case of emergency.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin and commissioner Michael Copps took the lead in the Wilmington effort.

Adelstein said there could even be a national turn-off-the-analog moment closer to the real Feb. 17, 2009, cutoff date. "Let's see what we glean from the communities willing to conduct this exercise," he told B&C of the proposed tests, "and see if it is worth doing a national, early ‘soft’ analog shutoff" test.

Adelstein said that in addition to the information gained, the FCC could generate some of the so-called earned media about the DTV transition that comes from news coverage of such tests.

He added that he has had discussions at the staff level with both the National Association of Broadcasters and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) and that they were amenable to teaming up with the FCC and state broadcast associations to conduct more of the short-term tests. "We're hearing good things from broadcasters about the idea," he added.

Of course, ultimately, the boards of those groups would have to make the decision on how and whether to proceed.

The FCC's participation in the voluntary testing, Adelstein said, would be to help come up with some "best practices" so that each market "isn't reinventing the wheel."

MSTV president David Donovan had no comment on the staff discussions, but he said the proposal was "certainly worth exploring" -- particularly tests that would yield important information without permanently cutting off analog early.

Adelstein told B&C he planned to talk with Martin and fellow commissioners about the proposal starting Monday.

Adelstein has been vocal in expressing concerns about the FCC putting all of its DTV eggs in the Wilmington basket. "The experimenter is going to affect the outcome of the experiment,” he added. “If we put disproportionate resources in that are not reflective of what we do in other communities around the country, we may not get valid results."