Many US TV stations preparing to make digital switch despite new legislation

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Despite legislation enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on Wednesday, more than one-third of television stations in the United States are planning to move ahead with the transition to digital television, according to reports.

The transition, which was scheduled for February 17, has been pushed back to June 12, 2009, per the DTV Delay Act enacted on Wednesday. However, it left a loophole for broadcasters, allowing them to make the switch anytime between February 17 and June 12.

Logo for the DTV transition before the DTV Delay Act.

"During these challenging economic times, the needs of American consumers are a top priority of my administration," President Obama said in a statement about the DTV Delay Act. "Millions of Americans, including those in our most vulnerable communities, would have been left in the dark if the conversion had gone on as planned, and this solution is an important step forward as we work to get the nation ready for digital TV."

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said that 681 of the nearly 1,800 television broadcast stations in the United States would cease broadcasting in the old analog format on the original February 17 date.

Owners of analog TV sets will need a converter box, for which there has been a US$1.5 billion federal program of $40 coupons for such boxes, which will allow them to view digital programming on analog televisions.

FCC video in ASL explaining the transition. (May 2008)

The three 'major' networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, have pledged to continue broadcasting in analog, but they only own about 100 of the 1,800 stations.

NBC affiliate, WDTN said that it would continue to broadcast public safety information over the analog signals, but that it had done research that showed most viewers were ready for the switch.

"It's what we've been telling viewers all along," Lisa Barhorst said, explaining why WDTN would go forward with the February 17 switch.

"Next week is not going to be pretty," Michael Copps, the acting chairman of the FCC, said on Wednesday. "There is going to be consumer dislocation and confusion next week."

"Our next few days are pretty much spoken for at the FCC," Copps added. "That's not how I would have hoped to be spending my time as acting chairman."

"There's always going to be a certain percentage of people who won't be ready," Wayne Simons, general manager of CBS affiliate WINK-TV, said. "We won't be any more prepared June 12 than we are right now."


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