“Analog Nightlight” service adopted

As directed by Congress last month, the FCC adopted rules on January 15, 2009, permitting many full power TV stations to continue to operate their analog transmitters beyond February 17, 2009, when all normal full power normal analog broadcasting is scheduled to end. Analog transmitters may stay on the air only to transmit emergency messages and information about the DTV transition and must shut down completely no later than 11:59:59 p.m. on March 19, 2009.

As has been widely reported, some members in Congress and President-Elect Obama are getting cold feet about the digital transition, fearing adverse political fall-out from viewers who, having not prepared for the transition, could lose their TV service on February 18.  Acknowledging that the FCC has been working “furiously” to complete the transition (well, a lot of people do seem to be furious), Congress sought to cushion the shock by passing the “Short-Term Analog Flash and Emergency Readiness Act", which the FCC is now implementing. Consideration is also being given to extending the transition deadline three months for all analog programming, but there is considerable disagreement over that proposal, and it has not yet been enacted.

So-called “nightlight” analog transmissions may not cause interference to digital broadcasting. (If interference does occur, operating authority may be rescinded.) The FCC has come up with a list of 826 full power stations that it believes will not cause interference, based on simplified engineering calculations. These stations may undertake nightlight operations without further FCC authority, but they must notify the FCC by filing a Legal STA through the FCC’s online CDBS application system. Those unduly intimidated by CDBS may send an e-mail to nightlight@fcc.gov – BUT e-mail notifications must include specific information required by the FCC’s Order. Legal STA requests and e-mailed notices must be submitted by February 10. Participation in the program is not mandatory, but all eligible stations are “strongly” encouraged to participate for at least the first two weeks after February 18.

Stations not on the list may also participate, but they must file an Engineering STA request through CDBS showing that they will not cause interference. They may propose power reductions or other techniques for avoiding interference. Alternatively, they may reach a private agreement with a station to which they may cause interference. Absent a private agreement, analog operations may not cause more than 0.1% new interference to any DTV station, except that in a DMA where no station meets the 0.1% test, a station may propose up to 0.5% new interference. Stations not on the pre-approved list that seek engineering STAs must file by February 3.

Analog broadcasts are limited to emergency information (including EAS alerts) and educational information about the DTV transition, including what viewers can and should do to continue to receive TV service.  DTV education information must be broadcast in both English and Spanish and must be closed or open captioned for hearing impaired viewers and include aural material for visually impaired persons. A loop that repeats material is acceptable, and the NAB plans to offer a brief educational video that stations may use. Hourly station identification is required. Sponsorship messages may be broadcast to defray operating costs, as long as they are “very brief” and include appropriate sponsorship identification. Continuous display of a sponsor’s corporate logo or “bug” is forbidden. Nightlight stations must transmit during the same hours of operation in effect prior February 18. When emergency information is being broadcast, analog stations may rebroadcast their digital programming, including any advertising.

If you want to keep your analog light burning for a while, don’t forget the February 3 and 10 filing deadlines. You don’t have to do it, although we anticipate that the FCC will twist arms pretty hard to make sure that at least one station in each DMA participates.