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Stations Want to Flip Digital Switch Early

Nearly 500 TV stations said they want to switch from analog to digital on February 17 -- the original digital transition date -- rather than holding off for up to four months under a new "hard" date that aims to give consumers more time to get ready for the transition.

Now the question is whether the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will let them go through with it. The agency gave full-power broadcasters until midnight Monday (Feb. 9) to notify it if they plan to terminate analog service on or after February 17. However, the FCC has reserved the right to deny requests on a case-by-case basis if flipping the switch on or before that date was found to be "contrary to the public interest."

FCC Acting Chairman Michael J. Copps and other government interests have not-so-subtly hinted that they prefer that broadcasters wait until June 12, despite the fact that about 61 percent of 1,793 full full-power stations had already said they'd be ready to go on February 17. (See FCC Puts Broadcasters on the Clock.)

Although the U.S. House and Senate have approved the DTV delay legislation, it still awaits final sign-off from President Obama. (See House Approves DTV Delay .)

Many broadcasters, however, want to switch on or before the original DTV transition date, in part because it's a financial burden to continue operating digital and analog feeds.

According to data released by the FCC on Tuesday, 491 TV stations want to switch on Feb. 17, while almost 200 others have already flipped to digital or expect to before that date.

This list contains the 190 stations that have terminated or will be terminating their analog operations before February 17, and the 491 stations that have notified an intent to terminate analog operations on February 17. Meanwhile, this appendix lists all full-power TV stations, grouped by Nielsen Designated Market Area (DMA), and indicates (in bold red) the 681 stations terminating analog service on or before February 17.

The FCC did not go into detail about how it will determine which stations will be allowed to move early or on the original date, but noted in its Public Notice on the matter that it may deny requests "if, for example, it finds that all or most of the stations in a market will terminate their analog service on February 17, and that the market is one in which many viewers are unprepared for the transition or at risk if the transition proceeds."

According to recent Nielsen data, the following five markets are the least prepared for the transition: Albuquerque/Sante Fe, N.M.; Dallas/Ft Worth and Houston, Texas; Tulsa, Okla.; and Portland, Ore. The most prepared? That would be Hartford and New Haven, Conn.; Atlanta; Philadelphia; Boston; and New York City.

The FCC will have to act quickly on the requests filed by TV stations on Monday, since the original transition date is just a bit more than six days away.

Although hundreds of stations intend to make the switch on February 17, many others, including stations owned and operated by ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC, have already agreed to wait until June 12, so it's likely that the transition, already confusing for some consumers, could become even more confusing.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:11:57 PM
re: Stations Want to Flip Digital Switch Early As expected, bill was signed into law earlier today...

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