Fwd: Digital Television Update

Gary Handman (ghandman@library.berkeley.edu)
Tue, 18 Aug 1998 09:01:50 -0700

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>From: Kevin Taglang <kevint@BENTON.ORG>
>Subject: Digital Television Update
>Comments: To: upforgrabs-l@cdinet.com
>Digital Television Update
>Although it's August and Washington tends to slow down as the temperature
>and humidity rise, there have been some recent developments in the
>transition to digital television. The Benton Foundation tracks these
>developments on a website site devoted to the debate on the future of
>television <http://www.benton.org/Policy/TV/>. We have updated the page in
>the last week and invite you to check in on the latest on the following
>* Public Interest Obligations of Digital Broadcasters
>* Must Carry Rules for Digital TV
>Public Interest Obligations of Digital Broadcasters
>The President's Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital
>Television Broadcasters (PIAC) was appointed October 22, 1997. Since that
>time the Committee has been meeting nearly once every six weeks to collect
>testimony on how broadcasters are fulfilling their public interest
>obligations and how they can continue to do so in the digital age.
>An August meeting of PIAC was postponed until September 9. The Committee was
>expected to make recommendations to Vice President Gore by October 1, but
>has recently asked the White House for an extension of the Committee's life.
>No new deadline has been set yet.
>Although the Committee has not voted on any recommendations of yet, the
>following seem to be getting serious consideration:
>I. New Code of Conduct
>The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) adopted a code of conduct for
>its members that was challenged by the US Department of Justice because of
>restrictions on advertising. The Committee is discussing making
>recommendations to the NAB that it adopt a new code without the advertising
>restrictions. The code would be voluntary and include significant and direct
>public interest obligations in four programming areas (education, public
>affairs, localism, and minority interests) and promote regular public
>disclosure of public interest activities including 1) annual or more
>frequent reports, 2) FCC filings, and 3) Internet postings.
>II. Education
>The Committee is considering the following recommendations:
>* Permanently granting both "analog" and "digital" spectrum to public
>broadcasters for use in the public interest.
>* Asking Congress to establish and adequately capitalize a permanent trust
>fund for public broadcasting. The fund would support educational programming
>for multicast channels, new initiatives, new services to underserved
>audiences, and local public service programming.
> o The trust fund would be administered by the Corporation for
> Public Broadcasting with a percentage going to an alternative
> system of independent producers and programmers.
>* Commercial broadcasters should be required to carry a certain minimum
>amount of educational programming and should undertake additional
>obligations as digital television evolves.
>* A broad definition of educational programming should be established that
>gives broadcasters clear standards and guidance on how to fulfill their
>public interest obligations.
>* Create financial incentives for commercial broadcasters to do additional
>educational programming in a multiplexed channel digital era.
>* Establish a "play or pay" option for commercial broadcasters who forgo
>providing additional educational programming.
>III. Multiplexing
>Public interest obligations differ if broadcasters move to true one-for-one
>exchange -- from existing single analog channel to new high definition
>digital channel -- than if they move from one analog channel to multiple
>digital channels, each with its own revenue stream. If broadcasters opt to
>go beyond two channels, a fourth channel would be set aside for public
>interest programming, during the hours when broadcasters multiplex. The
>public interest programming on the fourth channel would be commercial-free
>and in addition to existing public interest obligations. Broadcasters would
>be given a choice to 1) run this public interest channel, with a commitment
>to provide robust programming not just a public access signal or 2) provide
>funds (a portion of the revenues generated by the third, fifth and other
>multiple channels) to another entity to run it. Or, in lieu of above,
>require broadcasters who multiplex (two or more channels) to replicate all
>public interest obligations (e.g. children's television programming) on all
>IV. Political Discourse
>A voluntary commitment by broadcasters to provide candidate-centered
>discourse 5 minutes a night -- between 5pm and 11:35pm -- for the 30 days
>before an election. Broadcasters would be free to choose which races and
>candidates to cover, and to experiment with formats (e.g., a minute of free
>time for a candidate to speak to voters; a mini-debate; candidate
>interviews) with equal time rules waived in return for a commitment to
>fairness. The Committee is also considering a call on Congress to enact
>comprehensive campaign reform. As part of campaign finance reform, a repeal
>of the lowest unit rate in exchange for free time for candidates. Free time
>would be distributed to parties through the same formula now used for
>presidential campaign funds. For every 2 minutes of ad time sold to
>candidates, a broadcaster would give 1 minute of free time, to be split
>between the parties.
>V. Minimum Standards for All Stations
>For non-NAB members or member stations that do not subscribe to the new
>Code, the following minimum standards have been put forth by one of the
>broadcasters on the Committee:
>Ascertainment: Stations should be required to ascertain a community's needs
>and interests. This process should be the foundation for the station's news,
>public affairs and political coverage. The public should be invited to
>contribute to the process. The process and results would be reported
>Public Service Announcements: Each station would be required to air 150
>public service announcements per week spread evenly through all day parts.
>An emphasis should be put on PSAs produced in cooperation with local groups
>and 50% should be locally produced.
>Public Affairs Programming: Each station should provide two hours of public
>affairs programming per week. One hour should be aired between 6pm and
>midnight. Half of this programming should be locally produced and address
>local issues. News programs and portions of news programs would not be
>counted towards this programming requirement.
>Accountability: 1) On a quarterly basis, stations would broadcast a program
>that reports to the community on the station's ascertainment results as a
>part of the two-hour local public affairs programming commitment. 2)
>Stations would keep quarterly public files that document A) How they conduct
>their ascertainment process and the results, B) Their performance in meeting
>the minimum requirements for public affairs programs, C) Their performance
>in meeting the minimum requirements for public service announcements, and D)
>Their performance in meeting the requirements for free time for political
>**** PIAC invites public comment. Send the Committee your comments via email
>to <piac@ntia.doc.gov> with "Public Comment" as the subject. You can follow
>the deliberations of the Committee on Benton's website at
><http://www.benton.org/Policy/TV/piac.html> or the NTIA's official site for
>the Committee at <http://www.ntia.doc.gov/pubintadvcom/pubint.htm>.****
>Must Carry Rules for Digital TV
>On July 10, 1998, the Federal Communications Commission released a Notice of
>Rulemaking (NPRM or Notice) requesting publics comment on the effects the
>transition to digital television (DTV) will have on cable television system
>operators and subscribers. Through current "must carry" and "retransmission
>consent" requirements, the signals of full-power commercial and
>noncommercial broadcast television stations are carried on local cable
>systems. The FCC is now proposing to change its rules in order to:
>* ensure the successful introduction of digital TV
>* minimize the disruption and costs to cable operators, programmers and
>* provide compatibility between cable and broadcast digital television systems
>For public interest advocates, the rulemaking provides a valuable
>opportunity to help shape the future of television. Nearly two-thirds of US
>households subscribe to cable TV. The results of this proceeding will
>* consumer access to digital TV signals
>* availability of stations and channels are over cable systems
>* cable subscriber rates
>* future of noncommercial video outlets (i.e. PBS, C-SPAN and public assess
>The recent NPRM outlines several carriage options that address the needs of
>both broadcasters and cable operators. It asks for comments on any and all
>of the proposals, how they comport with statutory language, and what other
>options may exist. Specifically, the FCC seeks comments on the following
>issues effecting the public interest in the transition to digital television:
>* possible must carry alternatives for DTV signals; ranging from full must
>carry requirements to no must carry requirements, during the transition period
>* whether the placement of DTV noncommercial public, education and
>government stations ("PEG") should occur in accordance with the framework
>developed for analog television signals
>* definitions of ancillary and supplementary digital broadcast services
>* which tier of service digital television stations should be placed
>* channel positioning options for DTV stations
>* what cable operator actions affecting the picture quality DTV signals
>would be considered material degradation, which is prohibited for analog
>signals under the Communications Act
>* the use of antennas and A/B switches to facilitate the reception of DTV
>A summary of the proceeding -- Digital Television and Cable TV -- has been
>posted at <http://www.benton.org/Policy/TV/cabledtv.html>.
>**** The Federal Communications Commission seeks comments from the public on
>proceedings and proposed rule makings before the Commission. Individuals
>interested in commenting on proceedings may do so either formally or
>informally. Public comments in this proceeding are due September 17, 1998.
>Reply comments are due October 30, 1998. Full instructions about how to
>participate are included in the summary at the URL above. ****
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Gary Handman
Media Resources Center
Moffitt Library
UC Berkeley, CA 94720-6000

"You are looking into the mind of home video. It is innocent, it is aimless,
it is determined, it is real" --Don DeLillo, Underworld