Darryl Bush/AP
Comcast Cable technician Julio Rodriguez, left, explains how a new digital converter cable
works after installation.

FCC Orders Eager TV Stations Not to Switch to Digital Early

February 13, 2009 11:29 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Federal Communications Commission has told 123 TV stations that they cannot switch their signals from analog to digital on Feb. 17, out of concern for public safety.

FCC Says Early Switchover Could Cause Harm


“We have identified 123 stations of the 491 intending to terminate analog service on February 17 whose early termination poses a significant risk of substantial public harm,” the FCC said Thursday, according to PC Magazine. The stations that were warned are scattered among 29 states

The FCC said that those particular television stations were selected because they are located in markets where all major TV networks would be making the switch, thus leaving unprepared viewers without a TV signal from any station. Earlier in the week, the FCC said that about 700 stations, out of 2,000 stations in the country, planned to make the switch on the original deadline of Feb. 17, despite the government’s decision to delay the mandatory changeover until June 12.

However, stations can apply to gain approval to make the switch by adhering to a few guidelines issued by the FCC: at least one station in the market has to continue broadcasting in analog, and stations must broadcast educational information  in Spanish and English about how to install converter boxes, DTV, and areas that might lose service.

Obama signed the bill delaying the switch on Feb. 11, after Congress approved the delay last week due to concern that many viewers are not yet ready for the switch. A federal fund to supply viewers with coupons for converter boxes is running low on cash.

The Detroit Free Press reports that four TV stations in Michigan are among those that are adhering to the original date. Cities where all major TV networks plan to make the swtich include San Diego, Calif.; Tulsa, Okla.; Charleston, S.C.; Dayton, Ohio; and Lincoln, Neb., among others.

Opinion & Analysis

Gadgetsteria blasts the government’s decision to prevent stations from going digital before the June deadline, and its stated reason that the early switchover could pose a public risk. “123 unlucky stations will be punished for the governments and other people’s problems,” it says. The blog decries the American public’s “lack of responsibility” in preparing for the switch, and the government’s mandate that all stations broadcast an analog message after the switchover date instructing people to switch to digital TV. “Basically the broadcasters must hold their hands. Sad, I know.”

Background: Federally mandated switch to digital TV broadcasts delayed to June

In January, House Republicans had stymied a bill to delay the switchover from analog to digital TV until June, which the Senate had previously passed.

House Democrats had introduced the bill to the floor as a noncontroversial bill, meaning it needed a two-thirds majority to pass. But with Republican opposition the 258-168 vote didn’t meet the required threshold.

House Republican leaders explained their position, saying that a delay “will create confusion among millions of consumers who have been told for the last two years that February 17th is the date for the change.”

The Senate had previously agreed unanimously in a voice vote to delay the switch from analog TV to digital from Feb. 17 to June 12, giving 6 million Americans who aren’t ready four more months to make the switch.

After being reintroduced, the bill passed in the House and was signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 11. Obama had strongly supported the delay, after the government ran out of funds for a program intended to provide people with coupons to buy converter boxes for their TVs.

Experts estimate that the number of Americans not yet ready for the switch is approximately 6 million, but during the debate some lawmakers argued that about 20 million poor, elderly and rural-dwelling individuals were not ready for the transition.

Last year, the government was running out of money to subsidize the switch from analog to digital broadcast signals, prompting fears that millions could go without signal in February.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., asked Congress for an update on the coupon program that was helping people with their conversions. The Department of Commerce said the program was expected to hit its $1.34 billion limit at the beginning of January, Reuters reported.

USA Today reported that the digital converter coupons can take six weeks to arrive once ordered. Up to 70 million homes have televisions that use antennaes, which won’t work without a converter box. Nationwide, there are nearly 300 million televisions in use.

The necessary converter costs between $40 and $90, and the government-issued coupons offset $40 of the cost.

Are you prepared for the federally mandated shutdown of analog broadcasting?

Digital television is supposed to offer viewers clearer pictures, better sound quality and more programming options than analog. 

Related Topic: Prisons concerned about digital TV switchover

Reference: How to recycle your old TV


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