The Federal Communications Commission helped clarify Thursday how it will handle requests from broadcasters to turn off their analog TV signals before the new June 12 deadline.
Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps said during an open meeting that the agency would carefully evaluate which stations can turn off their analog signals before the June 12 deadline. The FCC will likely allow some stations to make the switch early, but it will try to ensure that not every station in a community makes the switch early, leaving unprepared viewers with no access to over-the-air TV.
"We reserve the right to deny those requests if we find that it would not serve the public interest or if it would frustrate Congress' goal of giving consumers adequate time to prepare," Copps said.
Copps also said during the meeting that the major broadcast networks, including ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC/Telemundo, have all agreed that their owned and operated stations would continue to broadcast in analog until the new DTV transition date of June 12.
Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed a bill that moves the deadline for transitioning TV broadcast from analog to digital from February 17 to June 12. The Senate has also passed a bill pushing the date of the transition back to June 12. President Obama is expected to sign it into law shortly. As part of a compromise to get the bills through Congress, lawmakers added a provision that allows broadcasters to transition to all-digital broadcasts early if they get permission from the FCC.
Copps said Thursday that TV stations must notify the FCC by Monday February 9, if they plan to turn off their analog TV signal on February 17.
Stations have been preparing to cut off their analog broadcasts for the February 17 deadline for months. Leaving the analog signals on will likely cost them more money as they are required to pay for the additional electricity and facility costs of running multiple transmitters. Most stations have already been airing some programming in digital.
Congress passed the new legislation to delay the deadline, because legislators and consumer advocates were concerned that 20 million people, most of whom are poor, elderly, and living in rural parts of the country, were not prepared for the transition after the government ran out of the $40 coupons it was issuing to help defray the cost of the converter boxes necessary to allow older TVs to get digital signals. There have also been reports that many consumers, who have already gotten converter boxes, are not able to connect them properly to their TVs.
The legislation delays the mandated switchover to all digital broadcasts another four months. Chairman Copps said he hopes that the additional time could be used to improve government outreach to help prepare for the transition.
An additional $650,000 is expected to be granted through the government's economic stimulus bill to complete the funding of the coupon program.
While the delay will give the government and other organizations more time to help prepare consumers, it could also confuse consumers who have already heard of the February 17 deadline. What's more with some broadcasters continuing to broadcast their analog signals and others switching to digital, some consumers could still lose access to some TV stations before they are ready.
National Association of Broadcasters said it will begin airing revised viewer alerts with the new date.