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Wilmington Shutdown Reaches Down Under

Five TV stations in Wilmington, N.C., are building a global audience as they prepare to make history Sept. 8. At noon on Monday, those stations will permanently power down their analog transmitters and broadcast only in a digital format. The event was organized to give federal regulators a glimpse of how the Feb. 17, 2009 nationwide analog shutdown will play out.

“Next Monday, U.S. public officials and broadcasters will gather in Wilmington, North Carolina, with little more to do than wait for the phones to ring,” Amy Schatz wrote in the Business section of The Australian. “In downtown Wilmington, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin and other public officials are expected to wait for the calls to come in. Jangling phones would indicate that the nationwide end of the analogue television era scheduled for February might bring trouble.”

The United States will not be the first nation to shut off its analog broadcasting system--the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom have started, but those countries elected to go region by region. Australia, Japan and members of the European Union are shooting to have transmitters shut down by 2012. The United Kingdom is in the last throes of its transition. Sweden expects to be done by the end of the year.

In the United States, more than 1,600 TV stations simultaneously will cut analog signals at midnight next Feb. 17. An estimated 15 percent of U.S. TV households rely exclusively on over-the-air signals for their service. The shutdown of the U.S. analog television system has no precedent in the nation“s history.