With DTV delay likely, some stations to switch anyway

Despite a setback in the House of Representatives last week, Congress appears to be set this week to extend the DTV transition to June 12. Even so, many television stations appear to be sticking to the Feb. 17 deadline for the switch.

Republicans in the House defeated the extension bill on a special vote that required a two-thirds majority but allowed no amendments. This week, Democrats, who have a majority of the body, plan to pass the bill by a simple majority and vote down any Republican amendments.

The House Rules Committee is expected to get the new bill by Feb. 3. It could then get to the House floor by Wednesday, Feb. 4, where a simple majority will be sufficient to pass it.

President Obama has asked for the three-month delay due to problems with the government’s converter box coupon program and a general lack of DTV education funding. He reiterated his support after the House vote last week.

“We addressed the concerns of our colleagues, public safety, broadcasters and most importantly, consumers,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller D-WV, sponsor of the Senate legislation and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. “The House will have a second chance next week to implement this delay, I am hopeful they will pass this bill so we can send it to President Obama.”

The legislation provides time for the DTV coupon program to catch up with the number of those requesting converter boxes. It also allows first responders to begin using vacated spectrum and permits broadcasters to continue with their transition efforts, switching off analog any time they like between Feb. 17 and June 12.

Though Republicans blocked the House vote last week, they are not expected to succeed under rules where a simple majority is needed. “I guarantee you, no matter when you set the date — Feb. 17, June 12, July 4, Valentine’s Day — there are going to be some people that aren’t ready,” said Rep. Joe L. Barton, R-TX, who led the opposition. Of the 178 House Republicans, 155 voted against the delay last week. They were joined by 13 Democrats.

Though little is certain in these tentative times, it appears that the extension for the analog shutdown may create a staggered transition over the next three months. Several hard-pressed stations — mainly those looking to avoid the high electricity and other cost of operating dual transmitters — said they’ll transition on Feb 17 as planned. A station group like Sinclair Broadcast Group, for example, figures it will cost roughly $1.25 million to operate two transmitters at its multiple properties for the extra three months.

Take WTVP-TV in Peoria, IL. Chet Tomczyk, general manager of Channel 47, the area’s only public TV station, said he wants to stay with the original transition date because of the extra costs for a second transmitter. The station’s analog transmitter will save $7000 to $10,000 a month in power costs, he told the “Peoria Journal Star” newspaper. That’s the same story with many television stations across the nation.

WEEK-TV, Channel 25, and WHOI-TV, Channel 19, also of Peoria, will also shut down before June 12, their management said. “Assuming the FCC authorizes us to do so, it would be our intention to shut down our analog transmitter on Feb. 18,” said Mark DeSantis, general manager of WEEK-TV.

KDLT-TV, of Sioux Falls, SD, shut down its analog operator even earlier — after its late Sunday newscast following the Super Bowl Feb. 2. Mari Ossenfort, the station’s generation manager, said “There are many reasons why we are making the change early, the first one being a lot of stations in the United States are going to be shutting off early and so we’ve also decided to shut off early.” KELO-TV, a competitor of KDLT, said it will shutdown analog on Feb. 17.

KEEE-TV, Channel 24, and KVPT-TV, Channel 18, both of Fresno, CA, will also shut down their analog signals on Feb. 17. Executives with Fresno’s KGPE-TV, Channel 47; KMPH-TV, Channel 26; and KFRE-TV, Channel 59; said they hope to stop broadcasting analog signals on or about Feb. 17. However, KAIL-TV, Channel 53 in Fresno, said they will go along with the extension until June 12.

In Tampa, WEDU-TV, Channel 3, is considering turning off analog early. Dick Lobo, the station’s general manager, said “I’m weighing seriously stopping the analog signal on the original date, Feb. 17.” Lobo has laid off four workers at WEDU, cut the remaining staff’s pay by 5 percent, and slashed the public television station’s budget by $500,000 to meet the challenging economic times.

The new transition date of June 12 has extra significance in Florida, East Coast and Gulf Coast states, according to the “St. Petersburg Times.” It’s less than two weeks after the start of the next hurricane season.