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2/11/2009
07:23 PM
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Obama Signs DTV Delay, But Switch Is On

As many as 40% of U.S. broadcast TV stations are ignoring the reprieve and are ready to cut off analog broadcasts on Feb. 17.

President Obama on Wednesday signed legislation effectively granting consumers who rely on rabbit-ears antennae for their TV signals a reprieve till June 12 to switch to digital ... not that the broadcast industry is listening.

A sizable percentage of U.S. broadcast TV stations -- as many as 40% of them -- have already petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to switch from analog to digital broadcasts on the original cutoff date: Tuesday, Feb. 17.

Arguing that they did what they were supposed to do -- be ready to cut off analog broadcasts next week -- nearly 500 stations have asked the FCC for permission to switch Tuesday. They're complaining that it will be an extra expense to operate their old analog networks for four more months. Some stations already have permission from the FCC to switch their broadcasts.

"Stations that have already terminated their analog operations or that were planning to terminate their analog operations before Feb. 17 ... were not required to file a notification," the FCC said on its Web site. The FCC indicated it would withhold permission to switch to DTV in areas where it deems many consumers would be adversely impacted.

The high number of stations requesting permission to switch to DTV on Feb. 17 was not anticipated, and Congress and the FCC are trying to cope with the problem. Many consumers -- probably millions of them -- haven't been able to get boxes that convert digital signals to operate on old analog TVs. In addition, an unknown number of consumers won't be able to get the new digital signals, because spectrum used for digital doesn't have the robust reach of the old spectrum that has been used for analog signals.

In early tests for DTV-only reception in Hawaii and in Wilmington, N.C., there have been some problems switching service, but generally consumers have been able to cope with digital -- often after they have been assisted by help from call centers or, in some cases, by firefighters coming to their homes to help set up converter boxes.

Consumers who already have cable or satellite reception won't be affected by the switch.

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