A total of 421 US stations switched off their analogue signals last night (February 17/18), increasing the total number broadcasting only in digital to 641. This represents a third of all 1,800 terrestrial broadcasters in the country. February 17 was the original switch-off day, but Congress extended the deadline by three months until June 12.
The communications authority FCC said that it has dispatched staffers to 72 markets where the impact is expected to be the greatest. “This is not just about whether people can watch their favourite reality show,” said Michael Copps, acting chairman of the FCC. “It’s about whether consumers have access to vital emergency alerts, weather, news and public affairs.”
Finding that the public was not ready for the transition to digital television, the US Congress earlier this month delayed the deadline for termination of analogue signals from February 17 to June 12. But it also directed the FCC to give broadcasters the flexibility to make the transition early, including on the original February 17 date.
The FCC said it is seeking to ensure that even where all or most stations in a market are terminating analogue services, consumers who are unprepared for the switch will “continue to have access to critical local news and emergency information.”
To accomplish this, the FCC examined each market in which stations planned to end analogue service to ensure that at least one affiliate of the four major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) would continue broadcasting in analogue after February 17.