Public TV stations study viability of early Analog Switch Off

The Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) will begin an exploration of the circumstances under which public television stations could embrace a “hard date” to cease analog broadcasting. They said, however, that any plan for an early return of analog spectrum is highly dependent upon its stations’ digital signals being carried on cable and direct broadcast satellite systems, and saving some form of free television.

John Lawson, president & CEO of APTS, said his board has recognized there are major advantages for public stations to end analog transmission and embrace a ‘date certain’ for converting to digital transmission only.

For example, he said, Analog Switch Off (ASO) would save public stations $36 million a year in the electricity costs normally incurred on analog transmission. That figure, he said, represents almost 20 percent of the total funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting distributed to public television stations in Fiscal Year 2003 as Community Service Grants.

“Above all, embracing ASO would allow public television to focus all of our energy and resources on the future, not on a dying analog distribution system,” Lawson said.

APTS, he said, is well aware that public television cannot effect an early transition alone and that APTS is sounding out other players on forming a combined effort. These include commercial broadcasters, DTV product vendors, the consumer electronics industry, and the PC industry. Lawson indicated that an alliance with other groups with an interest in the return of the analog spectrum would also be essential, including the wireless industry and the public safety community.

“Federal policy also will play a decisive role in completing the digital transition,” Lawson said. “Any plan for an early return of analog spectrum is dead without guarantees--either negotiated or mandated--that all of our stations’ digital signals are carried on cable and direct broadcast satellite systems.”

Lawson reiterated public television’s commitment to “universal service” and protecting households that rely on over the air broadcasting to receive television. “Any plan we come up with has to avoid turning off free television. Instead, we must create marketplace incentives for consumers to purchase DTV receivers for free digital television,” he said.

Noting the dramatic price drop of digital to analog set-top boxes in the European market, Lawson cited the example of Berlin, which last August became the first market in the world to totally switch off analog broadcasting. “They transitioned 160,000 over-the-air households in 18 months, mainly by marketing set-tops to them,” he said.

Lawson said there was serious interest from APTS member stations in completing the digital transition and ending analog transmission. He said a survey that APTS conducted with its members last summer found that 88 percent of participating APTS member stations would support a hard date in return for certain policy concessions.

For more information visit

Back to the top