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    Federal Communications Commission
    1919 - M Street, N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20554
    News media information 202 / 418-0500
    Fax-On-Demand 202 / 418-2830
    Internet: http://www.fcc.gov

    This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).

    Report MM 98-1 MASS MEDIA ACTION February 18, 1998


    The FCC reaffirmed its service rules for the conversion by all U.S. broadcasters to digital broadcasting services (DTV), including build-out construction schedules, NTSC and DTV channel simulcasting, and the return of analog channels to the government by 2006.

    The Commission said the conversion to DTV would bring consumers higher quality digital TV signals plus innovative new TV services. It emphasized that broadcasters converting to DTV services will be offering at least one channel of free, over-the-air broadcast television.

    The Commission said it is already processing construction permit applications for DTV stations under its streamlined DTV processing procedures, and that it believes the original rules are working well and remain the best plan for speeding the transition from analog to digital television and bringing about the rapid buildout of DTV service around the country. The Order, which generally denied requests for reconsideration of its earlier order, gives all broadcasters certainty that allows them to proceed expeditiously with their respective business plans for the DTV conversion.

    The Commission reaffirmed that it would conduct a review every two years of the progress of the DTV transition in order to permit careful monitoring of the development of DTV and an opportunity to reassess the Commission's decisions in the future where necessary. The Commission is monitoring the progress of the 24 stations in the top ten TV markets that it noted in the April DTV order have voluntarily committed in writing to the Commission to building DTV facilities by November 1, 1998.

    The Commission said it saw no reason to modify its staggered build-out schedule for DTV stations (affiliates of four major networks in TV markets 1-10 by May 1, 1999; affiliates of four major networks in top 30 TV markets by November 1, 1999; all other commercial stations by May 1, 2002; all non-commercial stations by May 1, 2003). It said this was a reasonable approach to foster a rapid and efficient transition from analog to digital broadcast television.

    The Commission noted a number of factors that would encourage broadcasters to construct their DTV stations quickly, including: competition from other video programmers offering digital services; the opportunity to offer a variety of additional supplemental services in addition to the one mandatory over-the-air video programming service; and the planned cessation of NTSC broadcasting in 2006.

    The Commission noted that the 2006 date for recovery of the existing analog channels is now statutory under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, unless the FCC grants extensions under circumstances specified in the statute. It said that to ensure that all broadcasters are aware of their obligation to surrender either the original NTSC license or the additional DTV license, it would place on all broadcast TV licenses granted beginning January 1, 1999, an express condition requiring returning one of the two 6 MHz channels at the end of the DTV transition period.

    The Commission also affirmed its requirements for licensees to provide simulcasting of its programs on both its current NTSC analog channels and its new DTV channels at the end of the transition period (50% simulcasting by 2003, 75% by 2004, and 100% by 2005). It said the simulcasting requirement is intended to ensure that broadcasters provide substantially the same programming to all their viewers to ensure a smooth transition.

    The Commission said that NTSC TV station applicants with permits granted after April 3, 1997, and who therefore were not initially eligible for DTV licenses, would be permitted to initiate service as a DTV station or convert to DTV on their NTSC channels at any time prior to the end of the transition period.

    The Commission also said that it would be taking up a number of related issues in separate rulemaking proceedings, including: the applicability to DTV of existing cable system must-carry and retransmission consent rules; fees for commercial broadcasters' use of their DTV channels for pay services in addition to traditional free over-the-air broadcasting; provision by non-commercial broadcasters of for-profit additional services on their DTV channels; and the impact of state and local zoning and other ordinances on the ability of DTV licensees to effectuate a rapid construction of their DTV facilities. The Commission reiterated that, with respect to DTV service, broadcast licensees and the public are on notice that existing public service requirements continue to apply to all broadcast licensees and that it may adopt new public interest rules for digital television.

    Action by the Commission February 17, 1998, by Memorandum Opinion and Order on Reconsideration of the Fifth Report and Order (FCC 98-23). Chairman Kennard, Commissioners Ness, Furchtgott-Roth, Powell and Tristani. Chairman Kennard and Commissioners Ness and Furchtgott-Roth issuing separate statements.

    - FCC-

    News Media Contact: David Fiske at (202) 418-0513
    Mass Media Bureau Contact: Mania Baghdadi, Paul Gordon, Vicki Phillips (Legal),
    Gordon Godfrey (Engineering) -- Policy and Rules Division at (202) 418-2120