Noncoms Take Issue With FCC's April 16 DTV Deadline

Association for Public Television Stations urges FCC to start accepting requests to pull the plug early

Noncommercial stations have this message to the FCC about the DTV transition: "We're having technical difficulties. Please don't just stand by."

A number of noncommercial stations have asked that they be allowed to pull the plug on analog before April 16, citing technical and financial reasons.

The FCC last week proposed not allowing the next wave of analog cut-offs until at least April 16. Though it has not come out with final rules and won't do so until perhaps the end of next week, it has not accepted the turn-off notifications stations are required to give 30 days before cut-off, according to the Association for Public Television Stations.

APTS urged the FCC to start accepting those requests from noncoms who had planned to pull the plug in late March or early April, saying that not to do so would cause "significant financial hardship" and contravene the will of Congress in moving the date to June 12 with the stipulation that stations have the flexibility to do so "at any time before June 12."

"As a practical matter, the Commission already has begun implementing this proposal by ordering stations not to submit service termination notifications at this time, and by rejecting service termination notifications that had been submitted to it in the past several weeks prior to the release of the NPRM," said APTS in a filing at the FCC.. "APTS urges that the Commission reverse this position with regard to public television stations, begin accepting service termination notifications immediately, and reinstate any notifications previously submitted so that public television stations that have intended to terminate their analog operations between now and April 16, 2009, may do so. "

APTS argues that Congress did not give the FCC the right to override its existing flexibility-
stations, with notice, could have pulled the plug on analog up to 90 days before Feb. 17, the original hard date, and over 200 did.

And in a filing with the FCC, Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) asked that its six public TV stations be allowed to cut off analog on April 5, saying it was necessary because of severe financial and technical challenges.

Noncoms, which rely on corporate and individual largesse for most of their money, have been hard hit by the tanking economy.

The FCC has proposed a number of deadlines and requirements associated with the new June 12 hard date, which WPT has asked it to waive, saying it would be a hardship and increased burden on stations. WPT said it had originally planned to pull the plug Feb. 17, as originally instructed by the FCC, then agreed to stay on past that date, as suggested by the FCC, setting April 5 as the new date.

"WPT was quite taken aback when the NPRM [FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] stymied its well-considered plan for analog termination. If WPT had known and understood that, after allowing maximum flexibility for stations to terminate analog service on or before February 17th, the FCC would abruptly change course and restrict further planned analog terminations, WPT would have terminated analog service for the WPT stations on February 17th.

WPT said its analog maintenance and part replacement schedule had been based on Feb. 17, and that it is at ongoing risk of "catastrophic analog equipment failure," saying two stations have already come close to that and have had to greatly reduce analog power do to technical difficulties. WPT wants to "decommission" the stations ASAP, saying they pose a threat to people and property.

It also sites an interference problem with a commercial DTV station in the area.

Facing proposed state budget cuts, the station told the FCC, the state's Education Communications Board, it already planned to use the $100,000 in utility bill savings from a Feb. 17 analog cut-off toward the proposed cuts in noncom funding, and had also reallocated station personnel and building space to cut costs.

"The postponement of the DTV transition date and the worsening economic climate have now exacerbated the financial pressures," WPT said.