Broadcasters have until 5:30 this evening (March 17) to let the Federal Communications Commission know when they plan to pull the plug on analog broadcasts.
Over 600 stations have already converted to all-digital, but more than a thousand remain covering the majority of the country, including most major markets.
The new DTV hard date is June 12, and stations that plan to stay on the air in analog until then -- expected to be the vast majority -- will essentially be locked into that cut-off decision, save for extenuating circumstances like financial hardship or extreme technical difficulties. But those asking to go earlier will have to wait until the FCC gives them the go-ahead.
The commission has already granted waivers to noncommercial stations pleading hardship, allowing them to start pulling the plug March 27; it could extend similar waivers to commercial stations in need.
The FCC has essentially set the window for pulling the plug on analog at between April 16 -- the earliest stations could transition now given the requisite notification to viewers -- and June 12. It doesn't seem feasible now that stations will be able to pul the plug April 16 because the broadcasters can't start informing viewers about th change until the FCC has approved the request -- which would have to come today in order to be 30 days before that date.
The FCC does plan today to release the list of stations going June 12, as well as those and the dates of the others that want to pull the plug earlier. However, an FCC spokesman could not provide a timetable for when the agency would inform stations that wanted to go earlier whether they could do so.
Broadcasters can pull the plug any time on their chosen day, as long as they let the FCC know when. Major network affiliates that want to go early can't all go in the same market unless somebody stays on with at least an analog nightlight service, similar to the rules for stations that wanted to pull the plug Feb. 17.
The FCC is attempting to balance the flexibility the date-change act suggested it should provide broadcasters with protecting analog-only viewers while the government processes millions of requests for government subsidies for converter boxes that allow those analog-only viewers to view a DTV signal.