About 45 percent of local broadcast-TV stations expect to miss the digital-transmission deadline set five years ago, according to Federal Communications Commission records.
The FCC gave commercial stations until last Monday to file waivers that would allow them to get their DTV stations up and running after the May 1 deadline.
As of March 7, 589 stations had filed for permission to miss the deadline. Another 160 have not been granted FCC permits to build their DTV stations.
Those 589 stations amount to 45 percent of the nation's 1,309 commercial TV broadcasters.
National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said many of the 160 stations without construction permits also filed for extensions, and should be included in the 45 percent.
Some of the 160 stations have actually started digital broadcasting under special temporary authority granted by the FCC, he added, even though they lack construction permits.
An FCC source said some stations without construction permits reside near the Mexican and Canadian borders and face cross-border interference issues.
In their applications — 37 of which the FCC had granted by March 5 — TV stations cited legal, technical and financial problems.
At least one station had even worse news to report.
"As a result of the devastation of the World Trade Center on September 11, WNBC-DT was destroyed," NBC reported to the FCC. NBC had built DTV transmission facilities atop of one of the skyscrapers and began testing the digital signal on July 1, 2001.
NBC said it did not know when efforts to find a suitable alternative would be found or when new DTV facilities built, but said it would supply a digital signal directly to New York-area cable systems until then.
The number of stations that filed for extensions exceeded industry estimates. Last August, the NAB estimated about 30 percent of stations would need more time to start the transition.
The NAB estimates that 258 stations in 88 markets — or 20 percent of all commercial stations — already broadcast DTV signals, reaching 77 percent of TV households. Those include public TV stations, which have until May 2003 to launch digital broadcasting.
In 1997, the FCC gave every commercial and public TV station a second license for free so they could provide digital TV at the same time as existing analog service.
Federal law says local TV stations do not have to yield their analog licenses until 85 percent of TV households in the market have the general capability to receive digital broadcasts.