About 40% of the nation's local TV broadcast stations want to shut off analog transmission by next week. Thousands of Americans soon could lose TV service despite Congress's recent decision to postpone the digital TV switch. Lawmakers didn't anticipate that so many stations would want to shut off analog signals next Tuesday, and the development raises the likelihood that people will become even more confused about what to do.
Congress approved delaying the mandatory switch to digital-only television to June 12, but local stations can ask to switch earlier than that. Many want to do so, hoping to save thousands of dollars they would have to pay to continue broadcasting in both analog and digital for a few more months.
The FCC is considering denying some stations' requests so communities won't be left without at least one local channel.
Most Americans won't be affected by the switch to digital because they subscribe to cable or satellite TV services. About 20 million US households rely on free over-the-air TV, although millions of viewers have already prepared for the digital switch by installing set-top converter boxes. An estimated six million homes are unprepared for the switch.
For viewers wondering what to do, the FCC will post on its Website a list of the stations that plan to shut off service early. Local stations must also inform viewers of their intentions.
Nearly 500 stations asked the FCC for permission to shut down their older analog signals on Tuesday of next week, the original date of the mandatory switch. An additional 190 local stations either already have permission or have done so already.
People in some markets would be affected more than others. In Bloomington, Ind., and Utica, NY, for example, just one station plans to shut off its analog signal next week. Five stations in Dayton, Ohio, would switch to digital-only, leaving analog viewers with only one.
A waiting list for government coupons that help pay for the set-top converter boxes needed to keep older TVs working is now about 3.7 million requests long. Congress has included $650 million for more coupons in the economic-stimulus plan that passed the Senate Tuesday, but it could take a few months for the backlog of requests to be eliminated.
Some consumers may soon have difficulties finding converter boxes in stores. Government estimates of converter-box demand didn't account for a delayed transition, which means there may not be enough to go around until late spring.
Consumer-electronics makers estimate that there are from three million to six million converter boxes available for sale now, far fewer than the number needed to fill demand. (info from The Wall Street Journal)