NEW YORK - Television viewers who use antennas and were expecting a few more months to prepare for digital TV may not have much time left before their sets go dark: Many stations like WIBW-TV still plan to drop analog broadcasts in less than two weeks.
Channel 13 is shutting off its analog signal and joining the digital revolution at 6:00pm, Monday, February 16th.
When Congress postponed the mandatory transition to digital TV until June, it also gave stations the option to stick to the originally scheduled date of February 17th.
That means the shutdown of analog signals, which broadcasters had hoped would happen at nearly the same time nationwide, could now unfold in a confusing patchwork of different schedules.
Lawmakers wanted to address concerns that many households that receive TV signals through an antenna are not prepared for the switch. They were also mindful that a government fund has run out of money to subsidize digital converter boxes for older TVs.
Dozens of stations around the country now say they are going to take advantage of the option to drop analog broadcasts this month.
Many others are on the fence. The total number is likely to be in the hundreds, a substantial chunk and maybe even a majority of the country's 1,796 full-power TV stations.
The House voted Wednesday to delay the mandatory shutdown until June 12. The Senate passed the measure unanimously last week, and the bill now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The legislation means analog signals could vanish entirely in some areas but persist in neighboring regions. In rural areas, low-power stations will continue to broadcast in analog even beyond June 12.
On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission ordered stations that still plan to turn off analog signals on February 17th to notify the FCC by Monday.
Acting Chairman Michael Copps said the commission could prohibit stations from making the switch if doing so is not in the public interest. For instance, if all stations in a market want to turn off early, that would draw FCC scrutiny, he said at a commission meeting.
For many broadcasters, delaying the shutdown is inconvenient and expensive. Many of them have scheduled engineering work on their equipment to make the transition on Feb. 17th.
PBS spokeswoman Lea Sloan said about half of the 356 public broadcasting stations across the country will make the switch on Feb. 17th. That includes Topeka's KTWU-TV. Many will do it for financial reasons. PBS said last month that if all its stations had to delay the switch, it would cost an estimated $22 million.
The Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, the public broadcasting network in the state, said Thursday that it planned to cease analog transmission from its full-power antennas at 1 p.m. on Feb. 17th.
"We have four full-power stations all with 30-year-old-plus analog transmitters that are costly to maintain, putting out less than a quality signal," said Mark Norman, deputy director of technology at OETA.
"Sitting right alongside them are brand-new digital transmitters that have been running now for a few years. We just think it's counterproductive to continue to put money into the old ones."
Keeping the analog equipment in operation until June would cost the station about $200,000 at a time when the state is considering cutting its contribution to the budget, Norman said.