Digital TV Switch Coming Today for Many, Despite Delay

Hundreds of broadcast stations will switch to digital on the original February 17 deadline. That means millions of Americans with analog TVs may see only snow on their favorite channels come Tuesday. Nearly 500 stations say they intend to switch to digital broadcasts that day, despite a recent Congressional vote to delay the transition until June 12.

The legislation allows TV stations to decide when to make the switch, and hundreds are choosing to do it right away. Local broadcasters won the loophole after successfully arguing that a mandatory postponement would force them to operate both digital and analog equipment, thereby adding greatly to their power and maintenance costs.

But no area will go all-digital right away. According to an Associated Press report, the Federal Communications Commission has informed more than 120 stations that they may have to postpone the switchover to prevent their cities from losing all analog network broadcasts.

The partial switch will no doubt add confusion to an already mismanaged conversion program. To receive digital signals, analog TV owners must either buy a digital converter box, sign up for a cable or satellite service, or get a new TV with a built-in digital tuner. The Federal government is offering $40 vouchers to defray the cost of the $50 to $70 converter boxes, but the underfunded coupon program ran out of money on January 4, 2009. And while the government's dtv2009.gov Web site is still accepting coupon requests, applicants are placed on a waiting list, which currently has more than 3.7 million U.S. households.

Bottom line: Every U.S. city should have at least one analog TV station running through June, and that's good news for emergency communications. But analog TV holdouts in some areas may find their programming choices severely limited.

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