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Federal Communications Commission
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Washington, D.C. 20554
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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 No. MM 97-8 MASS MEDIA ACTION APRIL3, 1997

(MM DOCKET NO. 87-268)

The FCC today concluded its proceedings on digital television. The Fifth Report and Order, adopted today, lays the groundwork for introducing digital television (DTV) to the American people. DTV allows delivery to consumers of brilliant, high definition pictures, multiple digital-quality program streams, as well as CD-quality audio programming and advanced digital services, such as data transfer or subscription video.

In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress directed the Commission to issue licenses for digital television to incumbent television broadcasters. These licenses permit temporary use of the additional channel and are conditioned upon the return of one channel at the end of the transition period.

The overarching goal in this proceeding is to provide for the success of free, local digital broadcast television. To bolster DTV's chance for success, the Commission's decisions today allow broadcasters to use their channels according to their best business judgment, as long as they continue to offer free programming on which the public has come to rely. Specifically, broadcasters must provide a free digital video programming service that is at least comparable in resolution to today's service and aired during the same time periods as today's analog service. The Commission will not require broadcasters to air "high definition" programming or initially to simulcast their analog programming on the digital channel.

Broadcasters will be able to put together whatever package of digital product they believe will best attract customers and to develop partnerships with others to help make the most productive and efficient use of their channels. These services could include data transfer, subscription video, interactive materials, audio signals, and whatever other innovations broadcasters can promote and profit from. Giving broadcasters the flexibility in their use of their digital channel will allow them to put together the best mix of services and programming to stimulate consumer acceptance of digital technology and the purchase of digital receivers.

The Commission requires the affiliates of the top four networks in the top 10 markets to be on the air with a digital signal by May 1, 1999. Affiliates of the top four networks in markets 11 - 30 must be on the air by November 1, 1999. The top ten markets include 30% of television households. The top 30 markets include 53% of television households. Nearly 40% of televisions are sold during the fourth quarter of every year.

A number of broadcasters in the top ten markets consisting of 30 percent of American households have committed to begin digital operations within 18 months. In adopting its construction requirements, the Commission relies on these commitments.

The Commission stated that it would grant extensions where a licensee has been unable to meet the requirement due to circumstances that are either unforeseeable or beyond the licensee's control, where the licensee has taken all reasonable steps to resolve the problem expeditiously.

While digital technology will change the nature of television, broadcasters remain public trustees, whether they use analog or digital technology. In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress clearly provided that broadcasters' public interest obligations extend to the digital environment. The Commission stated that, at an appropriate time, it will issue a Notice to collect and consider all views on how broadcasters' public interest obligations. It placed broadcasters on notice that existing public interest requirements continue to apply to all licensees, that the Commission may adopt new public interest rules, and that nothing is foreclosed from the Commission's consideration.

An important goal in this proceeding is the return of the analog spectrum at the end of the DTV transition period. The Commission has set a target of 2006 as a reasonable end-date for NTSC service. The Commission will review that date in its periodic reviews, which will be conducted every two years to allow evaluation of the progress of DTV and changes in Commission rules, if necessary.

Action by the Commission April 3, 1997, by Fifth Report and Order (FCC 97-116). Chairman Hundt, Commissioners Quello and Ness, with Commissioner Chong concurring in part and issuing a separate statement, and Chairman Hundt and Commissioners Quello, Ness and Chong issuing separate statements.


News Media contacts: Patricia A. Chew and David Fiske at (202) 418-0500. Mass Media Bureau contacts: Saul Shapiro at (202) 418-2600, Gretchen Rubin (202)418-0425, Mania K. Baghdadi (202) 418-2130, Dan Bring (202) 418-2170, and Gordon Godfrey (202) 418-2190.