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FCC to back down on digital transition ad requirements

The agency has reached a compromise with U.S. broadcasters over advertisements that are to be aired to educate the public about the upcoming digital TV transition.

The Federal Communications Commission is backing off plans to force TV stations to air more advertisements about the upcoming transition to digital TV next year, according to several news reports.

The FCC supposedly backed down from its position amid criticism from the industry that feared airing more advertisements would displace lucrative paid advertisements during prime-time hours, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The FCC is expected to adopt a more flexible plan that will give broadcasters more leeway in choosing which ads to air and when.

Under the FCC's previous plan, broadcasters and cable operators were asked to increase the number of advertisements about the digital transition to at least four 30-second public-service ads a day with this number increasing to as many as 12 ads a day on each station as the deadline approached.

But the industry complained that it needed more flexibility. So the revised plan, which could be announced today, loosens the requirements.

The FCC had originally rejected the industry's first voluntary proposal, the Journal said. But broadcasters revised their proposal and agreed to run at least four ads a week during prime-time hours along with a 30-minute show about the transition before the February 17 deadline next year, according to the The Journal.

It's estimated that there are 70 million or so analog TV sets that rely on over-the-air signals. And because many of these TVs belong to minorities, senior citizens, low-income individuals, and people who live in rural areas, the fear is that these individuals will not be ready for when broadcasters stop transmitting analog TV signals on February 17, 2009.

Officials also fear that there is still confusion about what the digital transition means. While TVs made after March 2007 will have digital tuners built-in, TVs made before then won't. This means that some folks will have to either buy a new TV or get a digital-tuner box, which will be subsidized by the government. The government is already offering vouchers to help people buy these boxes.

But having an old TV doesn't necessarily mean that a special digital-converter box is needed. Most people who subscribe to cable or satellite won't have to worry about the transition, regardless of when their TV was made, because their set-top boxes will do the conversion. So for the most part, the only people affected are people who still use the old rabbit ears to watch TV.