Who Will Make the DTV Cut?
On the list are 190 stations that have either terminated antiquated analog signals, or will do so, before February 17. There are also another 491 stations that plan to terminate analog on February 17. Together, they total 681 stations, or about 38 percent of the nation's 1796 full-power television broadcasters.
Here's the FCC's list (Excel document) with the 681 soon-to-be all-digital stations indicated in red. The remaining 1117 stations, in black, presumably plan to continue analog broadcasting till June 12, as provided for in the DTV Delay Act, which cleared both houses of Congress last week and awaits President Obama's signature.
About 100 of the stations planning to keep analog till June are network-owned affiliates of CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox. However, many other stations showing programs from these networks are independently owned and are at liberty to chart their own course. About half of PBS affiliates will stay in analog territory till June.
Markets are affected in various ways. Some, like Los Angeles and Chicago, are losing few or none of their analog signals next week. These tend to be the largest markets. Others are losing a significant percentage of analog transmissions but retaining several others--for instance, Tulsa, OK, which is losing CBS, PBS, and CW but holding onto NBC, ABC, and Fox. A few markets are losing all or most of their analog transmitters, including Madison, WI and the combined market formed by Plattsburgh, NY and Burlington, VT. These may get special attention from the FCC, as described below.
The stations going all-digital fall into two categories. Some have prearranged permission for "early termination" prior to February 17, and in many cases (such as the entire state of Hawaii) have already acted. Others plan to proceed on that date, which was the original deadline for the DTV transition. However, the FCC's list is not set in stone, as the Public Notice (PDF) states:
We remind stations that intend to terminate analog operations on February 17, 2009 that consistent with their public interest responsibilities and Congress' delay of the transition to June 12 to give consumers additional time to prepare, the Commission has reserved the right to limit or reconsider the partial waiver of the Third Periodic Review Report & Order’s early termination procedures granted in the February 5 Public Notice in the event that the Commission determines that analog termination on February 17 by a station or group of stations is contrary to the public interest. In such event, the Commission will promptly notify the affected station or stations. The Commission may consider such action if, for example, it finds that all or most of the stations in a market will terminate their analog service on February 17, and that the market is one in which many viewers are unprepared for the transition or at risk if the transition proceeds. In such case, the Commission may require affected stations to submit additional information to explain and justify how their early termination advances the public interest. Such additional information can include significant economic, technical, contractual and other business reasons that support termination on February 17, and efforts being made to protect consumers from service disruptions. The Commission will scrutinize such information closely in light of the important interests at stake to determine whether a compelling case has been made.
In other words, even stations that have complied with the law, obtained waivers, and invested heavily in making the transition on February 17 may still be forced to pay to keep analog going for several more months at the whim of the FCC. It would have been difficult, a week ago, to predict how the already botched DTV transition could lurch ahead even more chaotically, but the Federal Confusion Commission has found a way to do it.
To give a rough indication of the cost of the DTV transition delay, let's assume the extension will cost each station $200,000 for the cost of leasing and powering its analog transmission towers till June--this was the estimate given by a PBS affiliate in Oklahoma. Multiple that by the 1117 stations that have agreed to extend analog and you get $223 million. Add another $615 million for still more set-top boxes and yet another education program, as provided for in the economic stimulus bill, and we're up a pricetag of $838 million for the DTV transition delay.
That's the cost of serving a tiny minority of antenna-dependent analog viewers--a subset of a subset of a subset of the total viewing population--for three and a half months. The calculation does not include additional likely costs if the FCC adds further station extensions to the list on a market-by-market basis. It doesn't include the economic damage of withholding analog spectrum from new telecom users who had expected to have access to it after February 17. And it doesn't include the damage done to providers of emergency services, the "first responders" who had also expected to get new spectrum to improve their communications equipment but will have to wait three and a half months longer. Incredible as it may seem, this fiasco may actually cost lives.