On the heels of Congress approving an optional four-month delay in the transition to digital television (DTV), the FCC has passed new rules that specify the timetable for TV stations to make the transition. One potential impact is that more than 100 stations could be blocked from making the transition next week.

To make the transition to an all-digital signal on Feb. 17, as originally scheduled, broadcasters were required to notify the FCC by Monday or forego the ability to make the transition until at least March 12. According to the FCC, two-thirds of all broadcasters are planning to continue transmitting an analog signal after Feb. 17, while 491 asked for permission to proceed with the DTV transition on Feb. 17.

During a press briefing yesterday, Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps expressed concern that in some markets—less than 20--all television stations in the market requested to make the DTV transition on Feb. 17, which would leave analog over-the-air viewers without access to local news and emergency information. In such cases, the FCC could prohibit some stations from making the transition on Feb. 17, Copps said.

Indeed, later in the day, the FCC released rules prohibiting 123 broadcasters—stations “whose early termination of [analog broadcasting] poses a significant risk of substantial public harm”—from making the DTV transition next week unless they agree to a series of eight conditions by tomorrow. Among the conditions is the broadcasting of an “enhanced nightlight” signal that includes programming about DTV education and local affairs.

As long as broadcasters continue to transmit an analog signal—even in a “nightlight” mode—public-safety agencies in the region would not be allowed to operate systems on the channels. This reality will hinder a planned public-safety network deployment in Prince George’s County, Md., but “there’s not a substantial number of deployments that are going to be impacted by the delay,” said Robert Gurss, director of legal and government affairs for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).

Gurss said he does not believe the FCC decision to potentially block the transitions of the 123 stations will hamper many public-safety efforts.

“I have not scoured that list yet, but [the 123 stations in question] appear to be major-network affiliates,” Gurss said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “And very, very few of the stations that would be blocking public safety are major-network affiliates—they’re usually independent stations [blocking public safety]. It’s possible that there is one or more in there, but I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.”