Among a raft of rules the Federal Communications Commission plans to impose this year on America's new digital TV channels is an obligation to air children's programs.

The move has been successfully pushed through by children's TV lobbyists, who argue it will ensure broadcasters give taxpayers something in return for free use of the digital spectrum -- estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

But some of the more dollar-dedicated executives among the nation's 1,700 broadcast stations say the rules could hinder their plans to multicast -- the term given to dividing the digital spectrum into as many as five additional channels.

A typical dTV-spectrum can transmit a high-definition channel plus up to two standard-definition channels in prime time; increasing this to four to six standard-definition channels during the day.

The FCC is set to insist on an equal amount of children's programming for each new multicast channel. This would require a broadcaster to transmit three hours of children's shows weekly for each additional 24-hour channel -- or proportionally less if a channel is transmitted for fewer hours in a day.

The proposal is almost certain to become mandatory given that it supported by a majority of the five FCC commissioners, including chairman Michael Powell. It could be approved as early as this week, according to insiders.

Children's TV proponents are delighted at the move. Says Patti Miller, managing partner for advocacy group Children Now: "Digital TV has a unique opportunity to shape how TV serves the nation's children."

The FCC may also impose other public interest requirements on dTV broadcasters. Among them …

  • The amount of public affairs programming digital broadcasters must air.

  • Determine whether broadcasters must publicly disclose the amount of public-interest programming they air.

  • Decide whether cable systems should be compelled to carry all a TV station's multicast channels.

Data sourced from: USA Today; additional content by WARC staff