DTV: Early Bird Special Edition

Here comes the staggered transition to digital TV. Even though Congress moved the DTV deadline from Feb. 17 to June 12, some stations, mostly in smaller markets, said they would flip the switch on Feb. 17 according to previous plans.

According to several local reports, a number of stations in markets such as Madison and Milwaukee, Wisc.; Bangor and Portland, Maine; Huntsville, Ala.; Burlington-Plattsburgh, Vt.; will keep to the original Feb. 17 deadline. About half of the 356 PBS stations will also be going on Feb. 17.  Along with the 143 TV stations that have already made the switch, including stations in Wilmington, N.C. and Hawaii, there could be hundreds that shut off analog signals on Feb. 17.

Stations must notify the Federal Communications Commission by Feb. 9 if they intend to make the switch, but the FCC has the final word.

“If all or most stations in a market are planning to terminate analog service on Feb. 17, that will merit our close scrutiny, and we may require the stations to file additional information to demonstrate whether they really have a compelling case,” said Michael Copps, acting chairman of the FCC, during a Thursday (Feb. 5) FCC meeting to review the DTV transition.

During the FCC meeting Copps reported that a number of owned-and-operated station groups have pledged to maintain both analog and digital signals until June 12 including ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC. Gannett and Hearst-Argyle Television said that the “vast majority” of their stations will broadcast both signals.

“These broadcasters deserve our gratitude. I encourage other broadcasters to join them,” said Copps. “Never have we asked consumers to jump through so many hoops in order to pick up a broadcast signal or, perhaps, to receive any consumer product or service.”

For many stations, making the decision to go early may come down to whether they can afford, in one of the worst economies in decades, to pay the $10,000 to $20,000 monthly cost to operate an additional signal. PBS has said it would cost its stations $22 million to operate both analog and digital signals.