Public stations get a digital delay

Deadline moved to Nov. 1

WASHINGTON — Public TV stations are breathing a sigh of relief. The FCC handed them a break Tuesday, giving them an additional six months to start airing a portion of their programming in digital.

Originally, stations were skedded to simulcast 50% of their analog schedule in digital by May 1. The deadline is now Nov. 1.

The FCC said it agreed to the additional time after being barraged with complaints from stations, which griped that requiring the simulcasting quota while they were also launching digital TV was unrealistic. The simulcasting quota is already under review at the FCC.

Meanwhile, Democratic FCC commissioner Michael Copps will get another chance to sound off on the upcoming rewrite of the media ownership rules next week. In what will likely be the last public hearing before the FCC makes sweeping new regs official June 2, Copps will hold court Wednesday at the Annenberg School for Communication at the U. of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

For weeks, Democrats at the commission have railed against what many expect will be a dramatic loosening of the laws governing media mergers. They argue that drastic deregulation will give birth to a whole new generation of Citizen Kanes. Copps has called for more time to make the decisions and complained bitterly about the secrecy surrounding FCC chairman Michael Powell’s proposals.

All commissioners have been invited, but so far only Copps is planning to attend.

The forum will also feature a strong voice on the other side of the argument: Loraine Ballard Morrill, news and public affairs director for Clear Channel Communications.

Clear Channel has been held up as the poster child of the evils of massive consolidation in the radio biz. After the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the conglom grew from 100 radio stations to more than 1,200.

Also planning to attend: Vince Maisano of the Communications Workers of America; Ed Schwartz of the Institute for the Study of Civic Values; Joel Waldfogel with the Wharton School of Business; and Jeff Gelles, a consumer writer with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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