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Digital conversion taking root

Nearly 70% of commercial TV stations expect to have digital TV signals on the air by May 2002, NAB said on Tuesday, after tabulating the results of a recent census of all 1,100 U.S. commercial TV stations.

That means 19 out of 20 American homes will have access to at least one digital TV signal by that time, NAB says. "By next May, nearly as many American households will be in the range of broadcast DTV as they are of analog television," said NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts. "Our government needs to address how to get those homes connected to DTV on the receiving end."

The survey also found that many stations that anticipate missing the deadline will only do so by a matter of months and are moving slower because they are waiting for equipment. "We believe that economic realities of smaller markets and the stations that serve them should be given prompt attention. Smaller communities may need special consideration but should not be left behind," Fritts said.

"If digital signals are in markets accounting for 19 of 20 households by next May, consumers will need access to sets that can tune them and cable service that delivers them. We challenge the other players to work together to get those 19 of 20 homes connected to DTV on the receiving end."

NAB is pushing the cable industry and the consumer electronics manufacturers to work with broadcasters to speed the transition. NAB conducted the survey to help the FCC estimate how many TV stations would be asking for waivers come next May when FCC rules require stations to have completed the transition. - Paige Albiniak