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2/13/2009
02:26 PM
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FCC Halts Some DTV Switching

Some 368 stations still plan to convert to an all-digital broadcast Tuesday.

The anticipated switchover to digital television next week has been halted for a handful of broadcasters.

Of the 491 television broadcast stations that asked the FCC for permission to jump the gun and switch to DTV on Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission has told 123 of them that they can't switch unless they can demonstrate that their viewers have alternate viewing options.

While most of the nation's broadcast TV stations will wait until June 12 to convert their analog-to-digital service, nearly 500 sought FCC permission to switch on Feb. 17, the original date set for the switchover. Most have claimed financial hardship because they have to operate both analog and digital broadcasts until a formal switchover takes place.

"The primary concern of the commission is to ensure that viewers relying on over-the-air television do not lose access to local news, public affairs, and emergency information before they are ready for the full-power television transition to all-digital television service," the FCC said on its Web site. "It was this concern that prompted the Congress to delay the digital transition until June 12."

The FCC said it has approved 368 TV stations to go ahead and terminate their analog service on Tuesday with the proviso that they notify viewers of the coming drop in analog service. The FCC also urged the stations switching to digital to provide an informational "nightlight" service for at least two weeks on their old analog channels.

"To assist the consumers in these markets, the commission is assessing and redeploying field staff and resources to key locations where stations are terminating on Feb 17," the FCC noted. "We are also coordinating with our contractors, partners, and industry stakeholders to provide extra support in these areas." The FCC is also planning to beef up its call center operation to assist consumers.

One looming difficulty -- the number of consumers who haven't been able to get converter boxes -- could develop as a problem Tuesday. Many consumers have reported that they haven't been able to get coupons to enable them to purchase digital-to-analog converter boxes for their TVs. Most U.S. consumers receive their TV broadcasts from cable or satellite companies and won't be impacted by the switch. Some consumers won't be able to get any reception at all after the switch, although their number is thought to be minuscule.

Learn more about all the latest digital television and home networking products and technologies at TechWeb's Interop Las Vegas, May 17-21. Join us (registration required).

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