Obama Approves Delay

President Obama signed a bill on Wednesday to delay the DTV transition from next week to June 12, following approval by Congress last week.

The DTV Delay Act allows stations to shut off analog early, if they meet certain FCC guidelines. Legislators recently got cold feet over the Feb. 17 planned analog shutoff, fearing that an estimated 6 million U.S. households would lose over the air television if all stations followed through next week. Also factoring into their decision is a bankrupt DTV coupon program that now has a waiting list of almost 4 million. Almost $700 million in funds to supplement the program are tied up in the economic stimulus bill now in front of Congress.

"During these challenging economic times, the needs of American consumers are a top priority of my administration," the president said in a statement. "Millions of Americans, including those in our most vulnerable communities, would have been left in the dark if the conversion had gone on as planned, and this solution is an important step forward as we work to get the nation ready for digital TV."

Late last week, the commission gave broadcasters until Monday, Feb. 9 to apply for those stations wishing to terminate full power analog signals before June 12. On Tuesday, it released the list of applicants, which number 681, representing 37 percent of all broadcasters in the U.S. in most markets. Out of the 681, 190 have already shut down, or plan to shut down analog signals before Feb. 17. Yesterday, the commission announced it was approving 368 of the 491 stations planning to shut down analog before between Feb. 17 and June 12 but denied requests from the remaining 123 stations that applied for early termination, citing a “significant risk of substantial public harm.” The FCC’s main concerns were that certain markets would lose all or most of their network signals.

Those stations have until Friday, Feb. 13 to have their request to shut down early reinstated if they can prove to the commission that at least one station currently providing analog service to an area within a designated market area (DMA) that will no longer receive analog service after Feb. 17, will continue broadcasting an analog signal providing, at a minimum, DTV transition and emergency information, as well as local news and public affairs programming (“enhanced nightlight” service) for at least 60 days following Feb. 17. Such programming may include commercial advertising.

The “enhanced nightlight” service must include educational programming (in English and Spanish) on converter box and antenna installations, where to apply and purchase the boxes, area maps showing coverage, etc. Stations in the same market areas must also collaborate on providing toll-free and “walk-in” assistance to consumers as well.

Those stations that still wish to shut down early but cannot meet these requirements can still apply for a waiver if they can demonstrate that, by continuing to broadcast their analog signals, they will suffer “unavoidable loss of their analog site or extreme economic hardship.” Those stations must file a report by Feb. 13.

“We do not anticipate that many stations will be able to meet the high burden applicable to this showing,” the commission said. “Any station electing to make this showing must await a determination by the Commission that its showing is sufficient before terminating analog service.”