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Copps: Most Stations Could Move Earlier Than June 12

Related:Stations Weigh Impact of DTV Delay

The FCC says 61% of TV stations (1,089) should be able to turn off their analog signal before June 12 if they choose to without causing interference to other stations, and that "most" of the remaining 700 or so stations "may" also be able to do so.

That is according to a letter from acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps to Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Joe Barton (R-TX) and Internet & Telecommunications Subcommittee ranking member cliff Stearns (R-FL), who are concerned about how many stations would be able to make the transition before the June 12 date most now believe will become the new DTV "hard" date.

The 61% are already operating on their post-transition DTV channel, so it would simply be a case of turning off the analog.

The others would have to either turn off analog and operate on their temporary digital signal until the June 12 date, or could move from theirs temporary to their permanent DTV channel, but in the latter case the FCC would have to do a case-by-case analysis to see if it would cause interference to any other DTV channels.

Copps pointed out in the letter that all these answers had to do with the signal the stations were putting out and "says nothing about consumers ability to receive those stations).

In the letter, Copps also told Barton and Stearns that, as of Feb. 2, the FCC had received or granted requests form 143 stations that have already turned off analog, and that an additional 60 had said they were going to do so before Feb. 17.

In addition, he said, 276 had indicated, even though they were not required to, that they would be ending analog on Feb. 17, though he pointed out some of those could change their minds if the analog cut-off date is extended.

It is not exactly clear how the FCC will handle early notification if the DTV hard date changes. It currently requires stations to let viewers know 30 days in advance if they are cutting off analog early. The bill that passed the Senate and is expected to be passed in the House allows stations to switch before June 12 if they choose, but the FCC may have to revisit the notification issue in its implementation of the bill fo stations that decide to make the switch early now, but haven't informed the FCC yet, for the obvious reason that they didn't know what the date was going to be.

Copps closed the letter by putting in his plug for a "short delay" and appended a chart of the post-transition operating status of all full-power TV stations now operating on their post-transition channels, which are the ones that are good to go.

Barton and Stearns both oppose moving the date, saying it is unnecessary.

Republicans are also privately wondering whether if 60% of the stations can go early, if moving the date will send many viewers the wrong signal that they have more time than they do.

"Passing the DTV delay bill means we're about to start telling viewers that they've got until summer to get ready for the switch to digital, but oops, nobody's mentioning that 60 percent of the TV stations can make the switch starting Feb. 17 without interfering with other stations," said Deputy Republican staff director Larry Neal.

"If they do, surprise, TVs will stop working! Nobody understands why the Democrats are so determined to fix something that isn't broken, but the more you look at what they're doing, the more you understand that the repair job makes things worse instead of better.

"It's like getting Roto-Rooter to come out and clog your kitchen sink. Now, nothing stops people from just going to the store and getting a converter box, but they can't count on getting a government coupon because the Democratic DTV delay bill doesn't provide any more money for coupons. The Barton bill does, but evidently it isn't even going to be eligible for a vote."